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The multimodal majority? Driving, walking, cycling, and public transportation use among American adults


Multimodality, the use of more than one mode of transportation during a specified time period, is gaining recognition as an important mechanism for reducing automobile dependence by shifting trips from automobiles to walking, cycling, or public transportation. Most prior research on multimodality focuses on Western European countries. Based on the 2001 and 2009 National Household Travel Surveys, this paper analyzes trends and determinants of multimodal car use in the U.S. during a typical week by distinguishing between (1) monomodal car users who drive or ride in a car for all trips, (2) multimodal car users who drive or ride in a car and also use non-automobile modes, and (3) individuals who exclusively walk, cycle, and/or ride public transportation. We find that during a typical week a majority—almost two thirds—of Americans use a car and make at least one trip by foot, bicycle, or public transportation. One in four Americans uses a car and makes at least seven weekly trips by other modes of transportation. Results from multinomial and logistic regression analyses suggest there may be a continuum of mobility types ranging from monomodal car users to walk, bicycle, and/or public transportation only users—with multimodal car users positioned in-between the two extremes. Policy changes aimed at curtailing car use may result in movements along this spectrum with increasing multimodality for car users.

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  1. 1.

    We divided the frequency of public transportation use for one or two months by four or eight weeks to get average weekly rates. If our calculations yielded less than one public transportation trip per week, individuals were classified as not weekly public transportation users. NHTS data for public transportation use in the past 4 or 8 weeks only include local public transportation.

  2. 2.

    As is not uncommon, some tests of the IIA assumption failed. We estimated a series of binary logistic regression models comparing individual pairs of modality groups, such as monomodal car users versus multimodal car users; and monomodal car users versus wbt-only users. Comparison of results of the MNL and the binary logistic models showed that the signs and significance of coefficients were stable and that the magnitude of coefficients was similar for most variables. The only dissimilarity was that the MNL showed smaller differences within the age and car ownership groups. The binary models had different sample sizes because they excluded individuals from the modality group not analyzed in each specific model. Thus overall we prefer the MNL, because it enables us to evaluate differences between coefficients across the modality groups based on the same sample.

  3. 3.

    Significance was determined based on MNL results of the same sample using multimodal car users as the base group.


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This paper is based on a 2-year research project funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation: “Multimodal Individual Travel in the United States.” It is part of the Research Initiatives Program of the Mid-Atlantic University Transportation Center (MAUTC).

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Correspondence to Ralph Buehler.

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Buehler, R., Hamre, A. The multimodal majority? Driving, walking, cycling, and public transportation use among American adults. Transportation 42, 1081–1101 (2015).

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  • Multimodality
  • USA
  • Trends 2001–2009
  • Multimodal and monomodal car users
  • Walk, bicycle, and public transportation only users
  • Individual travel behavior