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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
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Summary

Most long-distance trips begin in one metropolitan region and end in another less than 500 miles away. These “interregional” trips account for about three-quarters of all long-distance trips. Several recent developments have emphasized the importance of this segment of travel. Among them are California’s plan to invest more than $60 billion in a new high-speed rail line connecting the state’s southern and northern cities and the emergence of express curbside bus lines in the interregional corridors of the Northeast and in other parts of the country. In these and other cases where new transportation systems—some requiring large public investments in long-lived infrastructure—are being considered, interregional travel demand, transportation service options, and corridor traffic and trip-making patterns need to be well understood.

This study reviews the demand for interregional travel in the United States and the uncertainties that arise in supplying transportation services and infrastructure to accommodate it. Consideration is given to relevant experience in other countries, especially in providing intercity passenger rail. A central finding is that appropriate analytical tools and up-to-date data on long-distance travel in the United States are lacking, which complicates decisions about how to invest in the country’s interregional corridors in ways that will serve future travelers most effectively and further other policy goals such as protecting the environment, enhancing safety, and curbing energy use. In addition, the study finds significant gaps in the decision-making capacity itself, largely because transportation funding sources and institutions do not align well with the country’s interregional corridors, which can span multiple states.

Experience at the metropolitan level suggests that filling this institutional gap will provoke demand for better travel data and the analytical

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×

tools needed to inform public investments in transportation systems serving interregional markets. After the key study findings are summarized, several recommendations are offered with the intent of improving long-distance travel data, supporting the development and application of state-of-the-art analytical tools, and providing incentives for the creation of interregional planning entities to inform regional and corridor-level transportation decisions.

KEY FINDINGS

Because of outdated travel behavior survey data, long-distance travel is not nearly as well understood as local travel.

Understanding of long-distance travel in the United States is informed mainly by the American Travel Survey (ATS), a national survey of long-distance trips conducted in 1995. If a long-distance travel survey were conducted today, it would likely reveal many travel patterns not observed by the ATS, as would be expected after two decades of demographic, economic, and technological change. Interregional travelers who do not travel by automobile must typically make at least one mode transfer near the origin and destination, and they may use different modes for the access and line-haul portions of the trip. Such trip complexity can create challenges for data collection and modeling. This complexity, coupled with a reliance on travel information and behaviors observed a generation ago, is a source of considerable uncertainty for today’s decision makers as they plan and invest in interregional transportation systems that will be used for decades to come.

The automobile is used for most interregional trips, especially by families and other people traveling together for nonbusiness purposes. Understanding the strong appeal of driving for nonbusiness travel is critical in planning transportation investments to accommodate interregional travelers.

The private automobile has many service attributes that differentiate it from other modes. Among them are its ability to provide door-to-door service and carry multiple people at little extra cost. These attributes and widespread automobile ownership make the automobile the mode

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×

of choice for most interregional trips, especially by families. However, driving is not an option for people who lack access to a car. In addition, it can have limited utility for those who are traveling alone, for business purposes, for longer distances, or to locations such as downtowns where a car is not needed and is costly to park. The car’s dominance in interregional travel means that transportation planners have a critical need for information concerning whether and how uses of the automobile may be changing over time and in specific markets—for example, because of changes in vehicle availability, technology, operating costs, and utility.

The recent proliferation of intercity express bus services illustrates the uncertainties associated with forecasting the demand for interregional travel and with anticipating how the demand will be met.

During the 1990s, the nation’s intercity bus industry was in the midst of a long-term decline in ridership. Today, the industry has been rejuvenated by bus companies providing nonstop service between the downtowns of major cities. The express bus appears to have filled a void in the low-fare and shorter-haul interregional market. It accommodates mostly solo travelers who lack access to automobiles, find driving too expensive or a car unnecessary at the destination, or want to make enjoyable or productive use of travel time through onboard amenities and the uninterrupted use of portable electronic devices. On the one hand, public officials noticing this renaissance might question whether capital-intensive transportation investments are needed or will be competitive with the low-cost private bus. On the other hand, they might view this development as indicative of more people seeking transportation alternatives to the automobile and thus perhaps as a signal for investing in other options, such as intercity train service and priority access lanes and terminals for intercity buses.

Sparse interregional train service throughout much of the country can be attributed to a number of factors. One is the preponderance of trains operating over the lines of private freight railroads, which limits opportunities for competitive schedule times and frequencies.

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×

Intercity trains in most of the country’s interregional corridors operate on freight lines. Corridor investments to increase passenger train speeds and frequencies are generally not attractive to the private freight railroads that own these lines, and they may be undesirable if they hinder the efficient movement of freight. With their skeletal passenger train service and their limited prospects for introducing competitive service levels on heavily trafficked freight lines, few corridors other than the passenger-oriented Northeast Corridor (NEC) have developed a large ridership base. The absence of such a base increases the uncertainty associated with introducing competitive passenger service, particularly when a large commitment of public funds is needed for infrastructure development.

The NEC is the only interregional corridor having train frequencies and schedule times that can compete successfully for market share with airlines, buses, and automobiles, and it accounts for most interregional train ridership in the United States. The 400-mile corridor, which links Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., contains many large metropolitan areas that are closely spaced and positioned linearly so that multiple city-pair markets can be served with frequent trains on a single line. Another factor fundamental to the success of train service in the NEC is Amtrak’s control of the electrified right-of-way, which carries little freight and is used mainly by local commuter and intercity passenger trains.

The provision of interregional transportation in Europe and Japan can inform U.S. transportation infrastructure decisions, particularly with regard to when and where to invest in intercity passenger rail.

The scarcity of passenger train service in the United States contrasts sharply with its widespread availability in Europe and Japan. Because Japan and most European countries are geographically compact, passenger rail networks can connect each country’s major cities in ways that are not practical in the United States. Over the past 50 years, the national governments of Europe and Japan have made sustained investments to create modern and increasingly integrated rail networks to accommodate fast, frequent, and reliable passenger trains. Consequently, most European and

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×

Japanese investments in new or substantially upgraded passenger rail services are made in markets already demonstrating high rail ridership. In this regard, the European and Japanese experience bears directly on the NEC, which has a well-established intercity train service and known ridership demand. Where train service is sparse and ridership is low or nonexistent, as is characteristic of most U.S. corridors, the European and Japanese experience in providing passenger rail is less informative of the large demand and decision-making uncertainties that can arise.

Despite substantial demand uncertainty in a mostly untested rail market, the state of California is proceeding with a plan to build a new high-speed intercity passenger railway informed mainly by airline traffic and stated preference surveys as opposed to evaluations of the demand revealed by existing train ridership. Transportation planners there recognize that use of the main lines of freight railroads is not a practical option for establishing a schedule-competitive rail service and gradually building a strong ridership base. Thus, they are planning to build a new high-speed trunk line and to use some existing passenger rights-of-way for the approaches to major urban areas. Reliance on existing freight lines is likewise impractical in most of the country’s other interregional corridors, many of which have the added challenge of obtaining large funding commitments from multiple states. In Europe and Japan, a 100- to 500-mile interregional corridor can cross a large portion of the country, which creates an incentive for transportation system planning at the national level. California’s plan is for a 400-mile high-speed rail line contained fully within its borders, but most other interregional corridors in the United States cross multiple states. Interregional corridors that are not national in scope but that cross multiple states can be problematic for transportation system planning, programming, and funding.

In the United States, the NEC is unique in having many of the geographic, demographic, and demand conditions that European and Japanese experience suggests are favorable to public investments in intercity rail. However, its multijurisdictional setting complicates the provision of intercity rail and coordination with the corridor’s other transportation modes.

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×

The NEC is characterized by the following:

  • Numerous large metropolitan areas in the region are
    • – Well connected economically and socially, which creates densely trafficked interregional rail, air, and highway routes;
    • – Located within 100 to 300 miles of each other and positioned in a linear fashion that suits service by a single rail line;
    • – Served by extensive public transit systems capable of providing fast, convenient access to downtown train and bus stations; and
    • – Centered on cities whose downtowns are major origins and destinations for interregional travelers.
  • It has an electrified rail right-of-way that is devoted to passenger rail and is thus able to accommodate frequent, fast trains without being unduly encumbered by freight trains.
  • Its rail and bus ridership levels are comparable with those of corridors in other countries where sustained investments have been made to develop competitive rail service, in some cases by investing in high-speed trains.
  • Several major airports in the area have regulatory limits on daily flights, and there is general difficulty in expanding airport and airway capacity.
  • Its transportation infrastructure spans numerous states—too many to have generated a highly coordinated program contributing to the infrastructure’s development but too few to have strong national-level support.

The geographic, demographic, and travel demand circumstances of the NEC set it apart from other U.S. interregional corridors. The NEC presents far less uncertainty with regard to the potential for passenger rail investments, including investments in high-speed rail, to confer benefits. The NEC’s distinct circumstances, coupled with its location in one of the country’s most populous and heavily trafficked regions, suggest that it be treated differently from other corridors, at least in terms of the scale and timing of the resources made available for assessing and meeting its transportation investment needs. However, the many difficulties inherent in coordinating the planning and priority-setting of multistate corridors in general have long hindered development of the NEC.

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×

Because interregional travel corridors often span multiple states, many lack the coordinated planning and funding structures needed to ensure that investments in transportation capacity are made from a corridor-level perspective.

Although most evident in the case of the NEC, the planning and development of all interregional corridors are complicated by the many public and private entities having responsibility for the supply of transportation services and infrastructure. Even when a corridor resides within a single state, much of the transportation infrastructure is funded and planned by mode-specific programs and agencies. In the case of highways and aviation, private individuals and companies supply the vehicles and operate the transportation services. Federal, state, and local governments have varying responsibility for funding, planning, and operating most of the fixed infrastructure of roadways, airways, and airports. In the absence of institutions and funding programs that transcend individual modes and jurisdictions, it is difficult to see how the planning and programming of transportation infrastructure can be expected to embody a corridorwide perspective.

To encourage the development of urban transportation systems that are integrated and function well across a metropolitan region, the federal government has long required state and local authorities to coordinate their urban highway and transit investments. The goal of this coordination, which is often challenging to implement, is to guide transportation investments from a multimodal and multijurisdictional perspective that is informed by sound data and objective analysis.

History indicates that an institutional framework is essential for ensuring multimodal and multijurisdictional transportation planning. While decades of planning and priority-setting activities by metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have had mixed success, they have generally fostered the development of urban transportation systems designed to accommodate access and mobility needs from a metropolitanwide perspective. This continuing attention, in turn, has prompted the development and refinement of standard methods for travel demand forecasting, for assessing policy and investment options, and for collecting requisite data.

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×

The federal government, which mandates the MPO process, has provided leadership and resources to aid these efforts. There are no institutional parallels for interregional corridors.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In contrast to the MPO process, the provision of interregional transportation appears to lack the most basic information on travel activity and the well-honed analytical tools needed for transportation planning and priority-setting. This deficiency can be explained in part by the absence of interregional planning and decision-making bodies seeking these data and tools on a continuing basis. Nevertheless, interregional corridors are often the subject of proposals for transportation investments, and some involve large, long-term commitments, as exemplified by California’s plan to develop a high-speed rail line. These proposals require careful analysis and planning. In addition, most large transportation investments require institutional coordination, which is absent in many interregional corridors.

The findings from this study indicate how the transportation infrastructure in the United States is seldom planned, constructed, or operated with an eye to its effectiveness in serving people making interregional trips. This situation can be addressed, in the committee’s view, by more federal attention and leadership. Accordingly, the committee recommends that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) seek to bring about a more rational and coordinated process for developing the nation’s interregional transportation systems by taking the following actions:

  1. Supporting the establishment of a national data program focused on observing and understanding the behavior of long-distance travelers and the transportation services available to them.
  2. Supporting the development and application of state-of-the-art analytical tools for planning and prioritizing interregional transportation investments, including methods for representing the uncertainties that can accompany decisions to invest in long-lived transportation systems that require forecasting of public benefits and traveler demand.
  3. Creating, by seeking authority from Congress as necessary, the incentives for states to collaborate in developing multimodal,
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×

interregional transportation planning and decision-making organizations. The incentives should be designed to allow states to choose whether to form such organizations and to provide the flexibility to structure them and define their responsibilities in ways best suited to meeting corridor-specific interests and needs.

Fifty years ago, the desirability of planning and prioritizing urban transportation systems from a metropolitanwide perspective was recognized. That was the genesis of what eventually became the multimodal and multijurisdictional MPO process. At times, the federal government has also helped in creating and supporting interregional bodies such as the NEC Commission and I-95 Corridor Coalition. These efforts not only offer conceptual models for coordinated transportation planning and programming but also indicate the importance of leadership by the federal government and USDOT in motivating and supporting implementation. The actions recommended in this report are intended to provide similar support and motivation.

Page 1
Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21887.
×
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Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making Get This Book
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 Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making
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TRB Special Report 320: Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making examines the demand for and supply of interregional transportation in the United States. Major additions to transportation infrastructure, including high-speed rail, are being considered for some of the country’s most heavily traveled 100- to 500-mile corridors. The availability and use of the automobile, airplane, and train for interregional travel are reviewed along with the rejuvenated intercity bus. U.S. interregional corridors and transportation options are contrasted with those in Japan and Europe, where substantial investments have been made in passenger rail.

Public investments in new, long-lived transportation infrastructure can be risky because of uncertainty about future demand and the development of new technologies and competing transportation services. Decisionmakers in interregional corridors face the added challenge of having to coordinate investments across multiple jurisdictions. The report recommends actions to reduce this uncertainty and create stronger institutional means for developing the country’s interregional corridors.

TR News 303 features an article on Interregional Travel: A New Perspective for Policy Making.

A video about the research is now available:

At the 2016 TRB Annual Meeting, January 10-14, 2016, a session entitled Interregional Travel: Policymaking from a New Perspective was webcast live. These videos provide an overview of various components of the project.

Introduction:

Part 1: Overview of Project Scope

Part 2: Data and Information Needs

Part 3: Intercity Bus Operations

Question and Answer Session

Presenters:

  • Tom Deen
  • Nancy McGuckin
  • Joe Schweiterman

Moderated by: Martin Wachs

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