Date: 30 Apr 2014

Mood and mode: does how we travel affect how we feel?

Abstract

How do emotions like happiness, pain, stress, sadness and fatigue vary during travel and by travel mode? Understanding the relationship between how we travel and how we feel offers insight into ways of improving existing transportation services, prioritizing investments and theorizing and modeling the costs and benefits of travel. Drawing on the American Time Use Survey’s well-being module, which surveyed over 13,000 respondents about mood during randomly selected activities, we address these questions using pooled ordinary least squares and fixed-effects panel regression. Controlling for demographics and other individual-specific attributes, we find that, contrary to the common perception that travel is an onerous, derived demand, mood is generally no worse during travel than on average. However, compared to other influences, travel has only a small total impact on how we feel. The estimated relationship between mood and mode tends to be weak and often not statistically significant. Nevertheless, we find that bicyclists have the most positive affect. Next happiest are car passengers, and then car drivers, though when controlling for the pleasure typically derived from interacting with others drivers are at least as happy as passengers. Bus and train riders experience the most negative emotions, though a small part of this can be attributed to the fact that transit is disproportionately used for the unloved work trip. Our findings suggest that bicycle use may have benefits beyond the typically cited health and transportation ones, and that improving transit riders’ emotional experience may be as important as improving traditional service features such as headways and travel speeds. Our findings are ambiguous as to whether the joy of driving will limit the appeal of autonomous vehicles.