Many Benton Harbor residents depend on public transportation to get to work and school, but the service’s reliability is questionable and its route coverage is limited. Assistant Professor Tierra Bills is collecting travel data to help city officials improve and streamline travel options for residents, with the goal of increased employment participation and retention.
Poverty rate in Benton Harbor
Population of Benton Harbor
Share of zero-vehicle households as of 2016
“There’s a direct connection between public transportation accessibility and employment outcomes and health-related outcomes,” Bills said.
The study specifically targets traditionally difficult-to-reach populations, with the goal of determining the extent to which city-wide transit accessibly can be enhanced by paying special attention to the transportation needs of the most disadvantaged travelers.
The Data Collection phase will deliver a rich panel dataset of individual and household travel behaviors, over two weeklong survey periods. One survey period will be conducted in the summer season and another survey period in the winter season, in order to capture weather variation in travel behaviors. An initial baseline survey will be conducted to gather detailed household information for a representative sample of Benton Harbor residents. Each weeklong survey period will involve GPS tracking of a sample of transit and auto users. The tracking will be done using 1) a smartphone-based mobility tracking application for participants with smartphones, and 2) external GPS tracking devices for participants without smartphones. This smartphone application has previously been developed by Dr. Pascal Van Hentenryck’s research group.
The innovations here are 1) the inclusion of an employment model for connecting transportation improvements to employment outcomes, and 2) the design of destination and activity and mode choice models that are conditioned on an employment model.
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Assistant Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering
Michigan Society Fellow, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Dr. Tierra Bills is an Assistant Professor and Michigan Society Fellow in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Michigan. She joined the University of Michigan in 2016 after spending 3 years as a Research Scientist at IBM Research Africa. Much of Dr. Bills’ current research focuses on investigating the social impacts of transportation projects. She develops activity-based travel-demand models to investigate individual and household-level transportation-equity effects, for the purpose of designing transportation systems that will provide more equitable returns to society. Her latest project aims to improve the ability to represent the distinct travel needs of transport disadvantaged communities in Benton Harbor, Michigan, using mixed modes of sampling and travel data collection. Previously, her work focused on leveraging emerging data sources for various travel modeling applications.
Dr. Bills research interests generally include discrete choice analysis and behavioral modeling, transportation planning, and emerging data sources in transportation modeling. Dr. Bills holds a B.S in Civil Engineering Technology from Florida A&M University (‘08), and M.S (’09) and PhD (’13) degrees in Transportation Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.