Examining Consumer Behavior and Travel Choices

Kelly Clifton, Portland State University


This study represents a first attempt to answer a few of the questions that have arisen concerning multimodal transportation investments and the impacts of mode shifts on the business community. This research aims to merge the long history of scholarly work that examines the impacts of the built environment on non-work travel with the relatively new interest in consumer spending by mode of travel. This empirical study of travel choices and consumer spending across 89 businesses in the Portland metropolitan area shows there are important differences between the amounts customers spend on average at various businesses by their mode of travel. However, these differences become less pronounced when we control for demographics of the customer and other attributes of the trip. This study of consumer spending and travel choices has some compelling findings that suggest some key spending and frequency differences by mode of travel that will likely invigorate the discussion of the economic impacts of these modes. Key findings are: 1) Bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders are competitive consumers: When demographics and socioeconomics are controlled for, mode choice does not have a statistically significant impact on consumer spending at convenience stores, drinking establishments and restaurants. When trip frequency is accounted for, the average monthly expenditures by customer modes of travel reveal that bicyclists, transit users and pedestrians are competitive consumers and, for all businesses except supermarkets, spend more on average than those who drive and 2) The built environment matters: We support previous literature and find that residential and employment density, the proximity to rail transit, and the amount of automobile and bicycle parking are all important in explaining the use of non-automobile modes. In particular, provision of bike parking and bike corrals are significant predictors of bike mode share at the establishment level. Other findings lend more insight into the relationship between consumer behavior and travel choices. For the non-work destinations studied, the automobile remains the dominant mode of travel. Patrons are largely arriving by private vehicle to most of the destinations in this study, particularly to grocery stores where larger quantities of goods tend to be purchased. But, high non-automobile mode shares and short travel distances exist in areas of concentrated urban activity. In sum, this study provides some empirical evidence to answer the questions of business owners about how mode shifts might impact their market shares and revenues. More work is needed to better understand the implications of future changes and to provide a robust assessment of the returns on these investments and their economic impacts.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
September 30,2012
UTC Grant Cycle:
OTREC 2011
UTC Funding: