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April 9 -- The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) invites the public to submit comments to OMB by May 10, 2021 regarding its proposal to conduct the Next Generation National Household Travel Survey (Next Gen NHTS) in 2021.
 
The NHTS is the USDOT's authoritative nationally representative data source for daily passenger travel. This inventory of travel behavior reflects travel mode (e.g., private vehicles, public transportation, walk and bike) and trip purpose (e.g., travel to work, school, recreation, personal/family trips) by U.S. household residents. Survey results are used by federal and state agencies to monitor the performance and adequacy of current facilities and infrastructure, and to plan for future needs.

The collection and analysis of national transportation data has been of critical importance for half a century. Previous surveys were conducted in 1969, 1977, 1983, 1990, 1995, 2001, 2009, and 2017. The current survey will be the ninth in this series, and allow researchers, planners, and officials at the state and federal levels to monitor travel trends.

Data from the NHTS are widely used to support research needs within the USDOT, and State and local agencies, in addition to responding to queries from Congress, the research community and the media on important issues. Current and recent topics of interest include:

Travel to work patterns by transportation mode for infrastructure improvements and congestion reduction,
Access to public transit, paratransit, and rail services by various demographic groups,
Measures of travel by mode to establish exposure rates for risk analyses,
Support for Federal, State, and local planning activities and policy evaluation,
Active transportation by walk and bike to establish the relationship to public health issues,
Vehicle usage for energy consumption analysis,
Traffic behavior of specific demographic groups such as Millennials and the aging population.

Within the USDOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) holds responsibility for technical and funding coordination. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) are also primary data users and have historically participated in project planning and financial support.
 
NHTS data are collected from a probability-based sample comprised of a representative mixture of households with respect to various geodemographic characteristics. For this purpose, FHWA will field two independent survey designs using two independent samples: (a) An address-based sample (ABS) of 7,500 households and (b) a panel frame sample (PFS) of 7,500 households drawn from a previously recruited national probability-based online panel. The ABS sample will deliver a set of national data that will be used for official purposes and will be available for public use. The PFS sample will offer FHWA an opportunity to conduct an independent assessment of the viability of an alternative data collection methodology for future NHTS data collection efforts.  
 
Randomly sampled ABS households will be surveyed using a combined mail/online survey mode in that they will receive a mailing that directs them to an online survey system to capture household information and core travel data. Non-internet ABS households will be offered paper versions of the questionnaire and trip diary. For the PFS sample, an online panel survey approach will be used, where email invitations will be sent to selected panel members inviting them to participate in the survey. Follow-ups with nonresponding households from the ABS and PFS samples will utilize mail, telephone, and email communications where contact information is available, and the contact method is appropriate.  
 
Both the ABS and PFS survey modes will collect data during an entire 12-month period so that all 365 days of the year, including weekends and holidays, are accounted for. To maximize the accuracy of the recall information and to provide coverage for every day of the year, all surveys will collect information about the travel during the previous 24 hours. A total of 7,500 completed households will comprise the ABS sample and 7,500 completed households will comprise the PFS probability-based panel sample.
 
The sampling design reflects the U.S. household trends of decreasing landline telephone ownership and increasing access to the internet. Both the ABS and PFS samples will originate from the USPS Delivery Sequence File (DSF), which includes all points of delivery in the US. The requisite address samples are obtained from a third party vendor that enhances the residential address by appending various auxiliary variables to the DSF prior to sample selection including block-, block group-, and tract-level characteristics from the Decennial Census, the American Community Survey (ACS), and commercial databases.
 
The final national (ABS sample) weighted data will allow users to characterize and report personal travel behavior for key domains, including the following:
•    National (the entire Nation, including all the 50 States and the District of Columbia combined).
•    Urban areas (national combined).
•    Rural areas (national combined).

The two proposed survey approaches will provide FHWA the opportunity to assess validity and reliability of the panel frame sample approach for use in future NHTS data collection cycles. At the conclusion of this data collection effort, FHWA will conduct an independent assessment of the results from both survey designs, with a focus on identifying similarities and differences with respect to survey administration metrics, including response rates, unit and item non-response, etc. In addition, the differences in travel patterns will also be assessed. This includes assessing the differences in trip rates, miles traveled, distance traveled, trip purpose, travel mode, and time of day of trip-making by specific demographic and geographic subpopulation groupings. The results from both survey modes will also be vetted against external data sources such as the Census, the American Community Survey, the National Transit Database, and FHWA data on vehicle miles traveled.
 
The 2017 NHTS is already considered to be outdated in the following areas: ride share, electric scooters, teleworking, eCommerce. Challenged by the rapid changes in transportation technology and travel behavior, FHWA has explored the proposed redesign for NextGen NHTS, which aims to gain timely national data to understand how travel demand is evolving. With the NextGen NHTS, the survey will focus on targeted data that can be collected in a timelier manner and disseminated faster. In addition,  relevant key data that can be collected more frequently to keep up with the accelerating changes in the digital age while reducing burden on survey participants.  
 
Given the rapid changes in travel behavior and the ongoing need for current data to inform program effectiveness and improve reality-based planning work, more frequent administration of NHTS is inevitable. It is from this perspective that instead of relying on the original 5- to 8-year data collection cycle, the NextGen NHTS design will be administered every 2-4 years. This biennial design is more conducive to providing real-time information, reducing burdens, and promoting efficient program planning. The intent is to field the first cycle of the NextGen NHTS survey in 2021; the biennial cycle will begin once OMB approval is received.
 
In December 2019, USDOT convened a meeting of State and local transportation agencies and researchers in Phoenix, AZ, to solicit inputs for the NextGen NHTS approach. Diverse attendees from State departments of transportation (Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia); local agencies and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) (Atlanta Regional Commission, Oahu MPO, Washington Council of Governments, and Maricopa Association of Governments); and Federal agencies (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory) were present at the meeting.

NHTS website: https://nhts.ornl.gov/
Next Gen NHTS submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202103-2125-001 Click on IC List for survey instruments, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation
FR notice inviting public comment: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/03/04/2021-04456/agency-information-collection-activities-notice-of-request-for-approval-of-a-new-information (Note: FHWA submitted its proposal to OMB on April 9, 2021 -- the public has 30 days from then to comment.)
 
Point of contact: Daniel Jenkins, PE, National Travel Behavior Data Program Manager, Federal Highway Administration daniel.jenkins@dot.gov
 
For AEA members wishing to submit comments to OMB, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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