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Introduction to Commercial Vehicle Surveys

Commercial vehicle surveys are used to collect profiles of goods and commodity movements, and truck and commercial vehicle characteristics, within particular areas of study. Surveys of this type have been conducted for several reasons, including for use in statewide, regional, subarea, and local travel forecasting models, in goods movement studies, in management systems (in particular, intermodal and congestion management systems), as well as in international border crossing freight movement studies.

At this point in time, commercial vehicle surveys are not typically performed to support most statewide and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) travel model forecasting efforts. In most cases, states and MPOs estimate commercial and truck travel models outside of the formal travel modeling process. Secondary data sources are often used as post-processors to develop commercial/truck vehicle trip tables and models. Several vendors compile private sector GPS truck movement data and package it for sale to support these analyses. As the analysis of commercial vehicle travel becomes more important in urban planning, surveys to benchmark and validate the commercially available data sets become more important.

Lau (1995) provides a comprehensive overview and analysis of the types, uses, methods, response rates, and comparisons of recently collected commercial vehicle data in metropolitan areas throughout the United States. It also describes the needs and requirements of commercial/truck data collected to support regional travel models as well as the MPO transportation planning and management system (pavement, bridge, etc.) process. See also Lawson and Stratham (2002).

A number of research reports discuss this topic of combining travel survey data with additional forms of non-intrusive, IT-based data collection (Skszek, 2001), (TRB, 2003), (Southworth, 2004), including the use of GPS technology for vehicle tracking (see Battelle, 1999) and growing number of active and passive and other roadside, on-board the vehicle and wide area sensors, including developments under the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's CVISN program (

In recent years, GPS has become a standard technology for documenting travel made by commercial vehicles since the travel patterns of vehicles, rather than persons, are desired. The GPS technology greatly reduces the survey burden as it minimizes the need to ask drivers to complete detailed travel diaries which is a substantial advantage for vehicles that make many stops per day. The use of RFID technology to track cargo movements by truck, rail, water and air is also now spreading across the freight movement industry (


This introduction comes from Chapter 17 of the Travel Survey Manual authored by Frank Southworth, Rob Tardif, Zak Patterson, Chris Simek, Stephanie McVey and Matt Roorda . The Travel Survey Manual section draws heavily from Chapter 9 of the FHWA Travel Survey Manual.