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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Chapter 2: Passenger Travel

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Passengers travel over a network of highways, railroads, waterways, and airways. Despite a recent decline in the number of passenger miles1 on U.S. highways, long-term growth in the number and usage of vehicles, vessels, trains, and other conveyances on our transportation system continues to strain infrastructure. Compared to 2009 levels, highway passenger miles in 2011 decreased by 0.3 percent. Conversely, air passenger miles experienced an increase over 2009 levels, rising by 4.3 percent, while passenger miles on both transit and Amtrak increased by 0.8 and 12.8 percent, respectively.

While Americans averaged 36.1 miles of travel per day, men averaged 9.4 more miles of travel per day than did women, 40.9 v. 31.5 miles. Also, for both genders the average person aged 36 to 65 traveled more than the average person in any other age cohort. Except for males under the age of 16, the number of average daily person miles traveled in 2009 for all age groups was less than that traveled in 2001.

Figure 2-1 breaks down total person trips per household by purpose as identified by respondents to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey. More trips (42.5 percent) were for family or personal business than for any other single purpose. An additional 27.5 percent were for social and recreational activities, and 18.7 percent were for work or were work related. Figure 2-2 shows how people commute to work, with 76.3 percent traveling alone by personal vehicle and 14.7 percent by carpool and public transportation.

Figure 2-1 Total Travel by Trip Purpose, 2009

Table Version

Figure 2-1: Total Travel by Trip Purpose, 2009

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 2009 National Household Travel Survey, available at

Figure 2-2 How People Get to Work, 2012

Table Version

Figure 2-2: How People Get to Work, 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey, table B08006, available at

Figure 2-3: Proportion of Day Trips by Mode, 2009

Table Version

Figure 2-3: Proportion of Day Trips by Mode, 2009

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 2009 National Household Travel Survey, available at as of April 2013

The 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) found that 83 percent of daily trips took place in personal vehicles, more than half of which (43.5 percent) were multioccupant. Only 1.9 percent of travelers used transit, and 11.5 percent biked or walked.

In 1960 there were 17.6 percent fewer vehicles than drivers. However, by 1972 the number of registered vehicles (privately and publically owned) had surpassed the number of licensed drivers. This trend, in which the number of registered vehicles outnumbered licensed drivers, peaked in 2007 with 20.5 percent more vehicles than drivers. By 2011 that ratio had dropped, but vehicles still outnumbered drivers by 15.6 percent.

Figure 2-4 Licensed Drivers, Vehicle Registrations, and Resident Population, 1960–2011

Table Version

Figure 2-4: Licensed Drivers, Vehicle Registrations, and Resident Population, 1960-2011

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics 2011, available at, as of Apr. 4, 2013.

Between 2000 and 2011, the greatest decrease in drivers aged 29 or less occurred in the District of Columbia, Utah, and West Virginia with 7.7, 5.5, and 5.2 percent fewer licensed drivers, respectively. In drivers aged 30–64, the greatest increase in licensed drivers was in the District of Columbia and Utah with increases of 4.9 and 4.2 percent, respectively. For drivers aged 65–74, only North Dakota experienced a decrease, 0.16 percent.

According to the 2009 NHTS, 91.7 percent of households have three vehicles or less. Households with one to three drivers average more than one vehicle per driver, but households with four or more drivers average less than one vehicle per driver.

Figure 2-6: Average Number of Vehicles per Household by Number of Household Drivers and Adults, 2009

Table Version

Figure 2-6: Average Number of Vehicles per Household by Number of Household Drivers and Adults, 2009

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 2009 National Household Travel Survey, available at, as of April 2013.

Figure 2-7: Number of Vehicles per Driver by Household Income, 2001 v. 2009

Table Version

Figure 2-7: Number of Vehicles per Driver by Household Income, 2001 v. 2009

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 2009 National Household Travel Survey, as of April 2013, http://nhts.

Approximately 9 percent of households do not have a vehicle. The majority of these households, 65.9 percent in 2001 and 64.7 percent in 2009, had a combined household income of less than $25,000. Looking at households with more vehicles than drivers, in 2001 the greatest proportion, 34.2 percent, had a combined income between $25,000 and $54,999. By 2009 this pattern had shifted, and the greatest proportion of households with more vehicles than drivers had incomes between $55,000 and $99,999 (30.5 percent).

Figure 2-8 Total Time Spent Traveling (Weekdays v. Weekends), 2003–2011

Table Version

Figure 2-8: Total time spent traveling (Weekdays v. Weekends), average minutes per day, 2003-2011

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Time Use Survey, available at, as of May 2013.

On average persons spent approximately 3 minutes less on weekdays and 6 minutes less during weekends and holidays traveling in 2011 than in 2003. For the time shown, this decline in total time spent traveling reached its low point in 2008, in the midst of the last recession. Due to a post-recession increase in weekday travel time combined with the continued decline in weekend travel time, in 2011 weekday travel time was almost equal to weekend and holiday travel times.

Table 2-3 examines gender differences in the average time spent traveling for a variety of activities in 2012. This data includes both people who are and who are not engaged in a particular activity.2 On average, men spent 8 minutes more traveling each day than women. The most notable difference between men and women is travel related to work. Men spent an additional 9 minutes on work related travel on an average weekday and 4 more minutes on weekends and holidays. On weekdays, more time is spent on workrelated travel than any other activity while on weekends more time is spent on travel related to leisure and sports than any other identified activity.

Tables 2-4 and 2-5 examine travel times further by examining only persons who are engaged in a particular activity. For example, when looking at travel related to work the population of interest is people who travel for work, thus omitting anyone who did not travel for work over the time period studied. On weekdays the average person spends 84 minutes per day traveling for a variety of activities. For persons who travel for work, on average 46.2 minutes per day is dedicated to work related travels. On average men who travel to work spent 7.2 more minutes per day on this activity than females (see table 2-4).

On weekends the average person spends 84.6 minutes per day engaged in various travel activities. This is less than 1 minute more per day when compared to weekday travel trends. Persons who work on the weekend spend 39 minutes per day on work related travel, 7.2 minutes less than the average time spent traveling for this activity on a weekday. Out of all activities examined in table 2-5, the average person spent the most time (46.2 minutes) in travel related to socializing, relaxing, and leisure on the weekends.

In 2012 there were 60.77 million overnight trips by U.S. residents to other countries, a 0.1 percent decrease from the 60.82 million overnight trips in 2000. Over half of the overnight international trips of U.S. residents were to neighboring countries: 20.4 million were to Mexico, and 11.9 million were to Canada. In addition, U.S. residents made 28.5 million overnight trips to countries outside of North America. The number of trips made by U.S. residents to the Middle East increased by more than 200 percent between 2000 and 2012. By month, the most 2012 overnight international trips by U.S. citizens took place in July (6.8 million), while the fewest were in February (4.1 million).

In 2012 a record 67 million overnight trips were taken by foreign visitors to the United States, a 31.6 percent increase over calendar year 2000. Of these trips, 33.0 million were from outside of North America, 21.2 million were from Canada, and 12.8 million were from Mexico. In 2012, 10 foreign countries had at least 1 million overnight resident trips to the United States. Canada and Mexico accounted for over half of the overnight foreign visitors to the United States. In 2000 China ranked 24th in number of trips to the United States. By 2012 the number of trips made by visitors from China increased by 451.4 percent as its rank climbed to the number seven position.

In 2012 six states—New York, Florida, Washington, Michigan, Nevada, and California—received more than 1 million visits by Canadians. Canadians stayed more than 10 million nights in 4 states: Florida, California, Arizona, and New York. The number of nights stayed in Florida by Canadians was four times as many as that in California. For number of nights spent by Canadians, the three top states, especially Florida, are home to many Canadian retirees in the winter, and are also popular warm weather vacation destinations. Canadians spent over $1 billion in each of four states: Florida, New York, California, and Nevada. The average visit of 20.8 nights to Arizona and 20.1 nights to Florida was more than double the average for any other state. In New York, the average stay was 2.7 nights.

From 2000 to 2009, person crossings along both borders showed a steady decline. However, this trend was reversed along the U.S.-Canada Border after 2009 as person crossings along the U.S.-Canada border increased by almost 9 percent (8.5 million persons). In 2012, 70.9 percent of all person crossings took place along the U.S.-Mexico border, and 29.1 percent of crossings occurred through ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border.

Figure 2-9 Index of Incoming Persons Crossing U.S. Land Borders, 2000–2012

Table Version

Figure 2-9: Index of Incoming Persons Crossing Through U.S. Land Borders 2000-2012

NOTES: “Total” includes all person crossings into the United States from Mexico or Canada.  Truck crossings are not included as that is primarily freight related.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Border Crossing/Entry Database; based on data from U.S.
Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, OMR database, as of April 2013.

In 2012 more than 1 million person crossings into the United States took place at each of 33 different border ports of entry: 19 along the U.S. – Mexico border and 14 along the U.S. – Canada border. Texas is home to 11 ports of entry with a total of 71.5 million person crossings. Along the U.S. – Mexico border, California had the second most person crossings with 63.1 million persons crossing at 6 ports of entry. Along the U.S. – Canada border, New York had the greatest number of crossings with 20.4 million persons crossing at 7 ports of entry. Washington had the second highest number of crossings with 14.8 million persons crossing at 15 ports of entry.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, the largest number of person crossings took place in Texas, accounting for 45.8 percent of total crossings along that border. California accounted for 39.7 percent of person crossings, and Arizona accounted for 13.4 percent. New Mexico had the fewest person crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border, accounting for only 1.2 percent of all person crossings.

Along the U.S.-Canada border, the largest number of person crossings took place in New York (33 percent). Washington and Michigan accounted for 24.5 and 20.8 percent of total person crossings, respectively. Montana, Alaska, and Idaho accounted for the fewest person crossings at 2.0, 0.7, and 0.8 percent, respectively.

There were 22 airports in 2012 with more than 1 million incoming passengers from international origins. New York (JFK), Miami, and Los Angeles airports received the greatest numbers of incoming air passengers with 12.5, 9.6, and 8.5 million passengers, respectively. From 2011 to 2012, the greatest increase in incoming passengers was in Honolulu, up 16.5 percent, with Dallas-Fort Worth second at 11.8 percent. Newark and Fort Lauderdale had the greatest decreases in incoming international passengers, down 2.1 and 1.8 percent, respectively.

1 U.S. passenger miles are defined as the cumulative sum of the distances ridden by each passenger.

2 For those who did not engage in any activity a value of zero is calculated in the average time spent.

Box 2-A Surveys Analyzed

National surveys conducted by multiple agencies throughout the Federal Government capture details on how and why people travel and use the transportation networks within the United States. This report utilizes many sources to draw a complete picture of passenger travel; however, the data collected as part of these three surveys were especially useful for developing many of the tables, figures, and analysis you see in the following pages; the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), the American Community Survey (ACS) and the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). Included below are details on each of these surveys.

The National Household Travel Survey (NHTS)

The NHTS, conducted by the U.S. DOT, is a telephone survey of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population of the United States. As such, an eligible household excludes motels; hotels; group quarters such as nursing homes, prisons, barracks, convents or monasteries; and any living quarters with 10 or more unrelated roommates. The precursor to NHTS was first administered in 1969 as the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS).

In 2001 the effort was expanded and renamed the National Household Travel Survey. Prior surveys were conducted in 1969, 1977, 1983, 1990, and 1995. The 2009 NHTS was conducted from March 2008 through May 2009. Travel days were assigned for all seven days of the week, including all holidays. The survey data were weighted to a 12-month period to produce annual estimates of travel.

For more information refer to

The American Community Survey (ACS)

The ACS, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, began in 1995 with a sample of counties across the country. Today the survey is conducted in all U.S. counties and in Puerto Rico, where it is called the Puerto Rico Community Survey. Designed as a replacement for the Census long form, the ACS is a continuous monthly survey and provides annual and multiyear estimates. Most of the questions in the survey are the same (or similar) to the Census 2000 long form. The ACS provides critical economic, social, demographic, and housing information to this country’s communities every year.

One of the key transportation-related modules in the ACS is the “Journey to Work” section. To gauge how American’s are traveling to work, the ACS asks respondents (each household member) what their usual way to work was for the week prior to the survey. Respondents are given a variety of modal options to choose from. Special tabulations, known as the Census Transportation Planning Products (CTPP), are also produced from the ACS data for transportation planners. (See CTPP for more details.)

The Census Transportation Planning Project (CTPP) is a set of special tabulations designed by transportation planners using large sample surveys conducted by the Census Bureau. From 1970 to 2000, the CTPP and its predecessor, UTPP, used data from the decennial census long form. The decennial census long form has now been replaced with a continuous survey called the American Community Survey (ACS). Therefore, the CTPP now uses the ACS sample for the special tabulation.

For more information on the ACS, refer to More information on the CTTP can be found at:

The American Time Use Survey (ATUS)

The ATUS provides nationally representative estimates of how, where, and with whom Americans spend their time, and is the only federal survey providing data on the full range of nonmarket activities, from childcare to volunteering. In the time diary portion of the ATUS interview, survey respondents sequentially report activities they did between 4 a.m. on the day before the interview (“yesterday”) until 4 a.m. on the day of the interview. For each activity, respondents are asked how long the activity lasted. Data collected in the ATUS includes both the overall average time the population spends traveling on selected activities as well as averages for the sub-population that engages in selected activities (e.g. omitting persons who did not participate in each activity).

ATUS data files are used by researchers to study a broad range of issues; the data files include information collected from over 136,000 interviews conducted from 2003 to 2012. For more information on the ATUS, refer to

Box 2-B Border Wait Times

The Federal Highway Administration has been working with other agencies on calculating border wait times along the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders. Border wait times and delays are an important concern for travelers and those involved with or affected by international trade. Border wait time data are used by drivers to make decisions about when, where, and whether they should cross the border and by border agencies to better manage traffic and operations. Challenges with border wait times include data accuracy, reliability, and timeliness of wait time data.

The border wait time data collected at many ports of entry (POEs) are collected manually. While border wait time data collection tasks are important, they are subordinate to the primary inspection and enforcement duties of the customs agencies. Through this Beyond the Border (BtB) initiative, real time border wait time information will be made available to border and transportation agencies. This may lead to increased efficiency and reduced delays at the border. The adoption of 100 percent automated collection of border wait time data collection at POE locations will reduce the burden of data collection by customs staff as well as increase the reliability and timeliness of border wait time data collection. In addition, the application of automation technology for border wait time data collection offers the potential to develop real-time border wait time information and to electronically archive data for use by transportation and infrastructure planners.

In 2010, for the U.S.-Canada Border, a Border Wait Time Work Group consisting of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Highway Administration, the Canada Border Services Agency, and Transport Canada was formed to identify opportunities for cooperation on specific projects and activities that foster the use of technology to measure border wait times at U.S.-Canada land border crossings. To date, the group has successfully worked to define border wait time as the time from when a vehicle arrives at the end of the queue to when the vehicle arrives at the primary inspection booth. The group has also lead a pilot implementation of a border wait time solution at two locations, the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, NY, and Fort Erie, Ontario, and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge between Lewiston, NY, and Queenston, Ontario.

One of the specific actions in the BtB initiative is the implementation of an automated border wait-time measurement system at mutually determined high priority U.S.–Canada POEs.

Over the next few years, plans call for automated border wait time technology to be implemented at 14 additional crossings, ranging from Calais, ME, to Point Roberts, WA. Some of these locations will utilize Bluetooth technology.

On the U.S.-Mexico Border, the Texas DOT has installed systems to collect real time and historic border wait time data at these crossings: Brownsville Veterans Bridge, Pharr Reynosa International Bridge, World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Colombia-Solidarity International Bridge in Laredo, Bridge of the Americas in El Paso, and Zaragoza-Ysleta International Bridge near El Paso. The Texas DOT provides this information to the public at: With data from these six sites, the Texas DOT has employed new algorithms to predict border wait times. Meanwhile, the Arizona Commerce Authority is also conducting a project to measure border wait times at the Mariposa Crossing in Nogales, AZ.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Office of Freight Management and Operations, personal communication, June 2013.