Four-step travel model

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Illustration of the Four-step travel model [1]


The four-step travel model is a ubiquitous framework for determining transportation forecasts that goes back to the 1950s. It was one of the first travel demand models that sought to link land use and behavior to inform transportation planning[2]. Originally applied in the highway planning context, the model was expanded in the 1970s and 1980s to include multimodal trips and improved modelling techniques[2].

The Four Steps

The four steps are described as follows:[3]

Trip Generation

Trip generation determines the frequency of origins or destinations of trips in each zone by trip purpose, as a function of land use, household demographics, and other socioeconomic factors.

Trip Distribution

Trip distribution matches origins with destinations, often using a gravity model– a calculation that takes into account the relative activity at the origin and destination as well as the travel cost to go between them[4].

Mode Choice

Mode choice computes the proportion of trips between each origin and destination that use a particular transportation mode. (This modal model may be of the logit form, developed by Nobel Prize winner Daniel McFadden.)

Route Assignment

Route assignment allocates trips between an origin and destination by a particular mode to a route. Often (for highway route assignment) Wardrop's principle of user equilibrium is applied (equivalent to a Nash equilibrium), wherein each driver (or group) chooses the shortest (travel time) path, subject to every other driver doing the same. The difficulty is that travel times are a function of demand, while demand is a function of travel time, the so-called bi-level problem. Another approach is to use the Stackelberg competition model, where users ("followers") respond to the actions of a "leader", in this case for example a traffic manager. This leader anticipates on the response of the followers.

Further Reading

Wikipedia. "Trip Distribution"


  1. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Accessed December 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 McNally, Michael G. "The four step model." (2000). p. 4
  3. Wikipedia: Four-step models
  4. McNally, Michael G. "The four step model." (2000). p. 13