The rational locator reexamined: Are travel times still stable?

David M Levinson, Yao Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


The rational locator hypothesis posits that individuals can, if they choose, maintain approximately steady journey-to-work travel times by adjusting their home and workplace. This hypothesis was coupled with the observation of long-term stability in drive alone journey-to-work times in metropolitan Washington (those times were unchanged from 1957 through 1968 to 1988). Despite the increase of average commuting distance and congestion, trip duration remained constant or even declined when controlling for travel purpose and travel mode because of shifting a share of traffic from slow urban routes to faster suburban routes. This observation has significance, as it is important to know for travel demand analysis if there is an underlying budget, or even a regularity, as this helps us determine whether our forecasts are reasonable. To re-test the underlying rationale for the hypothesis that travel times are stable, intra-metropolitan comparisons of travel times are made using Washington DC data from 1968, 1988, and 1994, and Twin Cities data from 1990 and 2000. The results depend upon geography. For the larger Washington DC region, keeping the same geography shows little change in commute times, but using the larger 1994 area suggests an increase in commute times. However, the Twin Cities, starting from a much shorter commute time, shows a marked increase over the decade, using either the smaller or the larger geography. Despite the remarkable continuing observation of stability in drive alone commuting times in metropolitan Washington, we reject the theory of personal commuting budgets, as we find that not only are commuting times not generally stable over time at the intra-metropolitan area, but that commuting time clearly depends on metropolitan spatial structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-202
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The rational locator reexamined: Are travel times still stable?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this