How Useful is Travel-Based Multitasking? Evidence from Commuters in Portland, Oregon

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Transportation Research Record

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As research on travel-based multitasking—doing other things while traveling—becomes more common, some studies also investigate the quality or value of activity participation during travel. This idea of travel usefulness is a component of the positive utility of travel concept; understanding the benefits of travel-based multitasking is important for calculating accurate economic values trading-off travel time and other variables. This study analyzed travel usefulness and its potential determinants using a 2016 survey of about 650 commuters in the Portland, Oregon, area. Ordered logit models identified factors associated with subjective assessments of the overall usefulness of activity participation while on a recent commute trip. Around 90% of walk and bicycle commuters reported useful commutes, as did about half of transit commuters and auto passengers; however, half of auto drivers viewed their commutes as wasted time. Younger travelers, those with less frequent commutes, and people who reported “doing nothing” or more passive activities (window-gazing, daydreaming) on the trip were more likely to consider their commuting time to be a waste. Traveler perceptions were more closely associated with travel usefulness than sociodemographic characteristics. Results suggested that exercise and the physical activity benefits of walking and bicycling may be considered a useful form of travel-based multitasking. Overall, few common and traditionally productive multitasked activities appeared to be useful. Instead, commuters may be doing things more to pass the time than to make productive use of it. These findings offer implications for understanding travel behavior interventions and the potential use of autonomous vehicles.


Copyright National Academy of Sciences: Transportation Research Board 2018



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