With higher fuel costs and changing economic conditions, travel behavior and the level and allocation of resources in highways, rail, air, and transit service in rural areas may be changing. The objective of a recently completed SURTC study, titled Assessing Demand for Rural Intercity Transportation in a Changing Environment, was to determine the attitude of would-be passengers in their choice of mode and the factors determining their choice in rural and small urban areas.
A survey was administered to residents of North Dakota and northwest and west central Minnesota that asked respondents to identify their mode of choice in different hypothetical situations where there were five modes available: automobile, air, bus, train, and van. A model was developed and used to estimate the likelihood that an individual would choose a given mode based on the characteristics of the mode, the characteristics of the individual, and the characteristics of the trip. Results show that, to some extent, travelers, especially those of lower income, respond to higher gasoline prices by choosing alternative modes in greater numbers, suggesting rural intercity bus, van, and rail ridership would increase if gasoline prices rose.
Results also show that age, gender, income, transit experience, traveler attitudes, travel time, trip purpose, and party size affect mode choice. More specifically, the study found the following:
- The odds of choosing air travel decreases for older individuals.
- Men are more likely than women to choose automobile.
- People of higher income have a greater odds of choosing automobile than those with lower income.
- The odds of choosing air travel are greater for business travelers and those traveling alone.
- Individuals are more likely to choose automobile if they are traveling for personal reasons rather than business.
- People are more likely to choose alternative modes if they have used them in the past.
Lower income individuals were found to be more sensitive to changes in travel cost, suggesting that much of the demand shift to bus, train, and van under higher gasoline prices would be from those with lower incomes. The effect of fuel price on mode choice for higher income individuals was very small, even with hypothetical $6 gas. While future fuel costs will impact demand for intercity services, changing demographics may also impact demand. Our findings indicate that an aging population is more likely to choose intercity train, van, or bus service rather than air for regional travel.
The study also examined attitudes toward intercity transportation – respondents showed the most interest in timeliness, comfort, cleanliness, and predictability – and how those attitudes influence mode choice.