Data Gaps

Data Gaps

Resource constraints are now causing reductions in scope, postponement, delays, and in some cases discontinuation of several long-term data series important to understanding changes in the field of transportation. RITA/BTS, for example, will not conduct a previously planned long-distance travel survey in 2007 due to resource constraints; this survey was conducted most recently in 2001/2002 as part of the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) conducted jointly by RITA/ BTS and the Federal Highway Administration and prior to that by BTS (as the American Travel Survey) in 1995 and by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1977. These long-distance travel surveys provided data on the number, length, origins and destinations, modes of transportation, purpose, and traveler characteristics of U.S. residents making long-distance trips.

Reflecting resource constraints in the Federal Highway Administration, the remaining component of the NHTS, which comprises the daily (largely local) travel survey, will not yield nationally representative survey findings in 2008. Instead, the survey will be limited to states that chose to fund the survey in their own state. A number of states have elected to directly fund the survey in their state. Other states may elect to participate, but a full national survey will not be carried out unless resources can be secured. Prior national surveys have been conducted periodically since the late 1960s. These surveys give benchmark data on traveler characteristics, number of trips, trip distance, modes used, and other matters pertinent to daily travel.

Also, Census Bureau officials have indicated that, due to resource constraints, the Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey will be discontinued; the planned repeat of the survey as part of the Economic Census in 2007 will not take place. The VIUS is the most indepth inventory of the characteristics of the nation’s highway truck fleet, covering all categories from lightweight pickups and utility vehicles through large trucks. Previous editions of this survey, and its earlier counterpart, the Truck Inventory and Use Survey, were conducted at twice a decade intervals extending back to 1963.

In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has discontinued one of its international maritime statistics data sets—the U.S. foreign trade-based data series. Preliminary and monthly cargo summary reports that have been made available on the Navigation Data Center and U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration websites (type service, dollar value, weight) and the monthly and annual waterborne databanks have been discontinued. Monthly foreign trade and transportation data will no longer be publicly available from the USACE. The foreign waterborne commerce annual data set will be publicly available but will not include cargo value.

Finally, due to budget constraints, the Department of Transportation and National Academy of Sciences have been unable to reach agreement for carrying out a transportation information needs assessment. The Academy’s assessment, called for in SAFETEA-LU,1 was to comprehensively examine information needs at federal, state, and local level by 2008, and was to identify priorities and costs of achieving these priorities.

There is continuing recognition in the transportation community of the need to develop priorities for transportation data needs, however. While not to be confused with the information needs assessment mentioned above, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) has acted separately to engage its many committees of professionals in transportation fields to get their input on key data needs. TRB has produced a circular, Transportation Information Assets and Impacts, detailing the results. The circular identifies needs as various as interregional commodity flows, travel by people in different socioeconomic groups and gender, and characteristics of tribal travel and infrastructure. The circular also suggests that the TRB standing committees devote some attention each year to the “status of data assets within their scope, identifying new and unmet data needs, the expected value and costs of meeting those needs and the recommended priorities for enhancing local and national transportation data assets.”2 Members of the TRB standing committee include transportation professionals from all fields and regions of the country.

Whether a broader and sustained commitment for action can be forged remains to be seen: Availability of good data for transportation decisionmaking is ultimately a question of resources.

1 Section 5601 (d) of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

2 Transportation Research Board, Data and Information Systems Section, Transportation Research Circular E-C109: Transportation Information Assets and Impacts (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences) December 2006, p. 19.