Home Blogs Factors influencing travel behavior and mode choice

Factors influencing travel behavior and mode choice

Cities have always suffered from traffic related problems, and this is added on more and more by factors such as migration, urban agglomeration and sprawl, steady population growth etc. This problem is often seen on cities which are designed in a monocentric manner and hence, the planning of a city is very important to determine the mode choice and travel behaviour of the commuters.

Land use pattern can play a very important role in deciding the travel plans of the commuters and the pattern of the city determines its trip length, mode use, and hence the congestion rates. Land use such as where and how a residential area, commercial areas, social infrastructure such as schools, hospitals etc affect the choices of the people greatly.

In addition to that, there are other socio demographic factors such as the composition of the mass like age, gender, income, etc play a significant role in the determination of the trip planning, or choosing their mode of travel, their decisions of work, decisions of ownership of properties/vehicles or rentals etc.

Hence, this article focuses on the major components like socioeconomics, demographics, topography, climate, culture, land use etc, and how it affects the modal choice and their travel behaviour.

Overall explanatory factors for determining travel behaviour can be broadly categorized as: socio-economic and demographic characteristics, spatial development patterns, policies directly or indirectly affecting travel behaviour, as well as national cultures or individual preferences.

Urban structure is a framework of housing, employment and developments (e.g., hospitals, education centres, and leisure facilities) that combined with socioeconomic factors, influence and shape travel patterns. As such, varying urban structures in cities can be anticipated (e.g. low density, high density, urban sprawl, and public transport), resulting in differing travel patterns. Therefore, it emphasizes on land uses and job housing factors, and how they influence trip lengths, modes, etc (Reilly, 1996)

Also, it focuses on how different sections of society are taking up what mode of travel, depending on their various factors. Hence it focuses a lot on the socio-economic, and socio-demographics.

Another major thing that has been completely underestimated is, while doing the planning for large or small cities, it is always taken for granted that that land over there is absolutely a flat terrain.  Which is why, many such cases do not work, as the systems of travel vary from place to place in terms of topography, spatial patterns, and climate. Also, how the planning policies play a role in it.

Therefore, in this article a lot of things will be talked about which has a major impact on travel behaviour.

Should built form/ land use matter at all??

The better the land use planning is, for example, if it is designed in a compact manner, that all the amenities are in easy distances, then, research shows that, there is a greater possibility of using more sustainable forms of transport such as walking or cycling.

Also, the built form in terms of density plays a major role, which in return acts as an influence on the modal choice whether they would walk to the destination or take public transit or take their own vehicle.

Another major factor is that, if all the basic necessities and the requirements are set in a walkable or a nearby distance, why would a traveller want to take a public transport?

Hence, the trip length, or also the purpose of the trip would also determine the choice of mode. For example, if I am going to buy groceries from a grocery store, I would like to take my own car, and take my own time as I would be having too many things with me to carry, hence it would not be comfortable to travel in public transit.

Another major factor is the influence on travel behaviour on employment status. If my job is located somewhere nearby, I would like to take my own vehicle, but if somewhere far away, I would like to take a public vehicle, or maybe carpool. It all depends on how much I reduce on the expenses, and how much I maximize the utility of my travel. Hence the trip length, and the purpose is very important.

Hence, we see, that in mixed land use, the maximum utility of a trip is done in which, probably two-three purposes are solved at one go, unlike the sparse developments which require a lot of traveling with maybe one or two purposes.

Socio Economic and Socio Demographic Factors

Socio economic factors are more critical to analyse to determine any kind of relationships on travel patterns. Socioeconomic characteristics consists of age, income, household size, and car ownership. Trip maker such as socio-demographic factors such as age, gender, ethnicity is included in travel because of two reasons-

One, because they may directly influence travel behaviour, and two, because, as proxies to more difficult to observe factors, such as preferences, tastes, choices, resource constraints and social conventions. Income and vehicle access are for example good indicators of an individual’s access to resources, whereas, gender, age and ethnicity variables provide partial hints to individual’s tastes and travel preferences (Daniels, 2012).


House hold income, or when normalized to family sized household income per person, has a strong impact on the mode choice. Upper-income households and persons are thought to place a higher value on the comfort and convenience associated with the private auto, particularly for non-work trips. Ownership of the vehicles and the access to license also plays a major role in travel behaviour, regardless of what the purpose of the trip is. There was an observation that the rich in the city travel more as compared to the poor. The poor ones would always like to stay nearer to their workplaces and reduce their travel costs, which is very unlikely in the case of the rich ones. They would live far away from their workplaces, and drive to their workplaces. Also, sometimes when the poor use the public transits, access to it is another major issue, as because, still in many places the feeder services are not that strong and expensive also if compared to what a normal poor person can afford for travel (Daniels, 2012).

Hence the travel behaviour and mode choice is very well reflected upon by the income factor.


The relationship between age and travel behaviour is multi-faceted. Young children, for example, are far less likely than adults to make any type of independent trips. Teenagers on the other hand, want to travel anywhere and everywhere without and specific agenda, they probably need a reason to get out of their homes. Adults tend to travel out for necessity or for recreational purposes. Older people have the desire to walk or bicycle and spare their time in a qualitative way, but there might be physical constraints. Hence attitude towards specific modes also varies generationally, with older generations more familiar with, if not predisposed towards transit (Reilly, 1996).


Relationship between gender and travel behaviour is also a major factor that determines the mode choice. What may be true for some men and women may or may not be true for the others. Many women than men, for example, are less willing to take up trips or take modes as they perceive them as unsafe. There are also incidents of memory biases in terms of seeing or hearing something extremely unpleasant that might restrict women from taking public transport.

Also, clothing of women, in different cultures can impact a lot on the choice of transport. For example, in Indian contexts, how comfortable will it be for a woman to run around for public transport in sarees? Safety aspects also can  be taken into account such as , what if the pallu gets accidentally stuck somewhere?  Hence it is important to keep in mind the gender related issues as well, such as transport and street infrastructure to ensure women’s high user group and make them as comfortable as it can be.

Employment Status

Employed people might have greater demands on their time and thus, prefer quicker and more convenient modes of transportation, as private car, compared to slower or less convenient modes. Also, the location of their work places has a great impact on the mode choice and again the affordability and time compared to their income is a strong determinant of the same.

Household consumption and housing type

If a household is a family, interrelationships might have a large impact on every individual’s choice. If household members are unrelated, they may share information, or tastes but their behaviour is generally expected to be less interdependent. The greater the number of children in a family, the more likely the adults is to avoid transit because they have to pay a fare for every person.

Finally, a household’s dwelling unit type and housing tenure have traditionally been seen as a taste variable that may indirectly impact mode choice. Living in a single family dwelling or owning ones dwelling are expected to increase that likelihood that a person drives.

Universal Accessibility

An individual’s ability determines their choice of mode to a large extent. The kind of infrastructure to accommodate thr abilities of a person is very important to make a city’s transport system inclusive. Not only long-term disabilities, but other infrastructure that accommodates short term problems, such as if we have luggage, if a women is carrying a baby, or the sense of safety and security due to the presence of the street infrastructure, the rate at which a public space is used etc.

Neglected Influence of city specific factors such as topography.

When the network planning of a city’s public transport is done, may factors needs to be considered such as the coverage, frequency, route planning, etc. also including other factors such as terrain and topography, climatic conditions, political and economic influence, target group’s required modes etc. These are the factors that also decides the planning of the city development plans and making of policies and also the investments and funding are included. This is important to determine the accessibility, usability and comfort of a user to make a particular mode their preferred choice of travel.

Topography is a factor that is often forgotten when making network planning decisions of a city.  But this can be improved by doing the right kind of analysis, projections, studies on planning, expansion, operations, and public transport use; measur­ing the nature of the walk access in providing coverage; ensuring planning guidelines recognize topography in measuring walking access; and choosing the most efficient mode topographically while ensuring other policies support multimodal networks. The physical environment includes elements of the natural environment such as climate and topographical features, including water features of harbours, bays and rivers and land features of peninsulas, ridges, slopes, and elevations. We should always remember that “One size does not fit all” while doing planning for public transport in cities.

When proper studies are done for different cities respectively, the development plans are made accordingly taking into account the land use, topography, usability and affordability of the public transport. This would help in increasing the operational and maintenance costs and also increase in ridership of those modes.

For example,

Table 1 The operational impacts of topography on Public Transport by mode

Mode Operational Effect
Rail Curves and gradients to overcome topographical features reduce operating speed, increasing travel time, affect passenger comfort, and reduce patronage. Topographi­cally-

difficult terrain usually results in increased maintenance and operations costs.

Bus Spacing and location of bus stops with bus stops required at closer spacing in steeper

areas or with areas with topographical barriers to prevent severance impacts and to

ensure coverage.

Closer stops increase dwell time and reduce overall operating speed, increase

total travel time and reduce patronage.

Ferry Location of wharves has impact on journey time and operational costs. Ferry services that need to divert into a bay have a longer journey time and higher cost through travelling greater distances. Different marine environments within the network (open harbour crossings and shallow rivers) increase vehicle mix, with consequential increases in maintenance costs and a potential to reduce reliability through vessel availability. Tidal flows affect timetabling and the ability to create legible networks.

Source of the Table: (Daniels, 2012)

Overall, the discussion on public transport planning, operations, and use sug­gests that the network planning principles identified previously may be seriously constrained by topography. Networks that are developed in cities with diverse topographical elements may well end up with a public transport network that looks very different from that suggested by the planning principles. Hence it is very important to do city specific analysis considering all factors so that the planning is appropriate and feasible for all cities.

From this article we could see the major dominant factors that play a role in travel behaviour and mode choice. And how income, sex ratio, gender, land use, and topographical and geographical aspects led to various decisions a commuter would make when he has to move from his pre-assumed origin to the pre-assumed destination.

Learning could be that despite of all the factors and differences that affect the travel behaviour, public transit should be accessible to all the classes of the society no matter young or old, rich or poor, male or female. Feasibility and awareness should also be taken in account.