Sociotechnical convex hulls and the evolution of transportation activity: A method and application to US travel survey data

Discussion of new technologies in transportation tends to center on speed and distance. The latest developments in mass transportation for example aim to out-perform the car in speed. The planning and implementation of Bus Rapid Transit and High-Speed Rail projects make this apparent directly in their names. The adoption of electric vehicles is affected by their driving range; i.e., the maximum distance that can be traveled on a single battery charge. The more this range extends into that achievable by traditional combustion engine vehicles the more likely they are to gain in every day usage. Active transportation modes also seek to out-compete the car, but within a low-distance range. Bicycle and pedestrian campaigns in cities often cite the large amount of “short trips” that are taken by car, implying that they could easily be converted to active modes based on distance criteria alone. The “product” that transportation delivers, however, is more than distance and speed alone. There are many qualities, such as convenience, geography, accessibility and price that could be considered. But among the array of attributes that define transportation activity, distance and speed are the most basic. Distance is often viewed as the fundamental quantity of transportation and speed is a quality that emerges from the social and technological character of transportation systems. Transportation activity is thus sociotechnical in nature. The limits of transportation activity are firmly set by available technology, but they are further constrained by social norms, patterns, and costs. The main objective of this study is to analyze how changes in the distance and speed capabilities of modern transportation have evolved over time, and how these changes relate to the overall and mode-specific demand for transportation services. The study develops a novel method for viewing transportation choices as part of a two-dimensional “sociotechnical hull.” The hull area is defined by observed transportation distances and speeds. Several measurements of this hull are further considered, including its area, time boundaries, and other geometric properties. After developing and describing the sociotechnical hull method, it is applied to U.S. National Household Travel Survey data for the period 1990–2017. It is considered whether metrics associated with the sociotechnical hull are more or less correlated with transportation activity than average trip distances and speeds over time. This study makes a contribution to understanding the evolution of transportation activity patterns in the U.S. using a novel graphical method based on travel survey data.


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  • Accession Number: 01726577
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Dec 23 2019 5:15PM