Institut für Verkehrsplanung und Transportsysteme, ETH Zürich
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Alliance for Global Sustainability


ETH Zurich
Prof. Dr. Kay W. Axhausen
Institute for Transport Planning and Systems (IVT)
HIL F 31.3
Stefano-Franscini-Platz 5
8093 Zurich

Tel: + 41 44 633 39 43
Fax: + 41 44 633 10 57



Fundamental patterns of travel behaviour and their policy implications for land-use, congestion and air-quality

Project Partner

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Center for Transportation Studies
University of Tokyo (UT), Graduate School of Engineering,Faculty of Engineering, Department of Urban Engineering, Urban Planning

IVT Staff

Prof. Dr. Kay W. Axhausen
Anja Simma


Alliance for global sustainability: ETH Zürich, MIT, UT


01.03.2001 - 28.02.2003


Reinforcing the separation of daily activities at ever-increasing distances, the growth in motorised travel has generated an increasing number of social problems at a growing scale. Today, transportation activities create externalities on virtually all aggregation levels, i.e. urban (land-use, congestion, urban air pollution), regional (acid rain, ozone), and (inter-) national (emissions of greenhouse gases). Policy makers worldwide, trying to cope with these problems need to base their decisions on sound analyses of travel behaviour; unfortunately, no such fundamental comparative large-scale studies exist to date.

Not surprisingly, in the absence of such systematic analysis confusion continues to exist in this area, since many policy measures are typically evaluated without fully understanding the dynamic linkages between our society and the transportation system. For example, many analysts have conducted comparisons between the European and U.S. transportation system, and explain differences in travel patterns by specific policy measures. They typically conclude that higher fuel prices, land-use and public transit oriented policies have lead to lower automobile usage (Pucher and Kurth, 1995; Newman and Kenworthy, 1999). Such studies, however, systematically overlook that European travel patterns result from similar forces as those in the U.S. and that the observed differences likely represent only a phase displacement in time (although the absolute levels of automobile usage may differ in the end) (see, e.g. Schafer, in press).

Thus, a profound understanding of mobility patterns and their underlying forces is crucial for formulating effective sustainable transportation policies. We plan to examine systematically a large number of urban and national travel surveys that (1) might reveal the existence of regularities in travel demand and supply over space and time, (2) indicate the extent to which travel patterns differ across different settings with respect to land-use (or population density), transport infrastructure and services, economic structure and culture; based on (1) and (2) allow the formulation of more appropriate policies to induce a shift toward more sustainable travel patterns.

Answering these questions is critical for a number of reasons. If travel behaviour is similar across all examined countries from the industrialised world and developing economies, the latter are likely to undergo a similar process of mobility increase as experienced in the industrialised world, which - in the absence of countermeasures - may thus lead to similar problems. Regularities in travel behaviour may also suggest that essentially the same basic transport policy packages may be applied everywhere, if trying to control for the transport-related problems indicated above. Examining the variability of travel patterns as a function of differences in land-use (or population density), culture, and the economic structures is an important second step as each specific setting may require additional policy measures. Based on such analyses, we evaluate a range of transport policies that aim at reducing the existing external effects. To ensure the broadest possible approach, our proposed analysis covers cities and countries from America, Asia, and Europe.


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