Toward Sustainable Travel Behavior and Activity Engagement: Connected Users, Technology Engagement and Cohort Effect

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The ongoing generational shift whereby millennials are overtaking baby boomers as the largest generation in the U.S. population, along with the technology-fueled evolution of transportation patterns, offer opportunities for policy makers to leverage changing behavior and build a more sustainable future. Much research has emerged seeking to understand whether the observed changes in travel behavior stemming from these trends are transient or permanent, though it has remained limited in several respects, including: (1) looking at travel as a single transaction, focusing only on interactions preceding travel (i.e. looking for information for travel) or following the decision to travel (i.e. navigation), and (2) neglecting to explicitly capture the childhood technology experience and its impact on adulthood behavior. This dissertation tackles some of these limitation through novel approaches to: (1) characterizing the travel behavior and activity engagement of young adults and the sample population more broadly, (2) capturing the underlying attitudinal and behavioral mechanisms behind their travel decisions, and (3) assessing the long-term prospects of uncovered patterns of behavior. The originality of the approach includes disaggregating the travel process (capturing the permeation of technology therein) and retrospectively capturing the technology use during childhood as a measure of “digital nativeness” and in turn cohort effects. This approach is formalized in a full-fledged conceptual framework and tested by collecting and modeling original qualitative and quantitative data. In all, this dissertation contributes to the body of knowledge on travel behavior, particularly to literature examining the generational transition (or millennials), and the impact of technology engagement (ICT) on travel. For instance, measuring the childhood experience retrospectively and linking it to adulthood determinants of travel behavior helped explain several variables that the travel behavior literature takes as given (e.g. self-selection). Second, measuring and modeling the childhood technology experience more specifically enabled conclusions on the impact of “cohort effects” on travel behavior using cross-sectional data. Results showed that individuals who had a stronger childhood technology experience were more likely to: (1) have a pro-environmental attitude as adults, (2) be less car-dependent as adults, (3) be more technologically engaged (as measured by a stronger virtual socialization and virtual information and communication), (4) engage in more virtual leisure activities, and (5) be more interested in innovative solutions and more likely to use recommendation and feedback applications. These findings reflect potential cohort effects impacting travel behavior along those dimensions. Meanwhile, conceptualizing travel as a process and measuring technology throughout its various steps both creates space for understanding new trends in travel behavior such as “reviewing” or evaluating travel services, and also for more accurately capturing the relationship between technology use during travel and preferences and travel behavior more generally. For instance, results showed that individuals who use more technology during travel were more likely to be interested in innovative services (Automated Vehicles (AVs) and Shared Automated Vehicles (SAVs)). Going forward, this dissertation offers a comprehensive framework for travel behavior researchers to use and build on to examine elements of cohort effects, preferences/attitudes, technology engagement and innovative travel services. Moreover, applications discussed and results obtained provide a roadmap for future research in the choice of variables, their measurement and inclusion in travel behavior models. It also cautions research in attributing all observed changes to cohort effects, with other forces also impacting travel behavior according to our findings. Such a roadmap will only gain importance as the interplay between technology and travel expands and young adults’ travel behavior becomes a critical determinant of trends across the broader population in years to come.

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  • 02/25/2019
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