Capturing fine-scale travel behaviors: A comparative analysis between personal activity location measurement system (PALMS) and travel diary

Mingyu Kang, Anne V. Moudon, Philip M. Hurvitz, Brian E. Saelens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Device-collected data from GPS and accelerometers for identifying active travel behaviors have dramatically changed research methods in transportation planning and public health. Automated algorithms have helped researchers to process large datasets with likely fewer errors than found in other collection methods (e.g., self-report travel diary). In this study, we compared travel modes identified by a commonly used automated algorithm (PALMS) that integrates GPS and accelerometer data with those obtained from travel diary estimates. Methods: Sixty participants, who made 2100 trips during seven consecutive days of data collection, were selected from among the baseline sample of a project examining the travel behavior impact of a new light rail system in the greater Seattle, WA (USA) area. GPS point level analyses were first conducted to compare trip/place and travel mode detection results using contingency tables. Trip level analyses were then performed to investigate the effect of proportions of time overlap between travel logs and device-collected data on agreement rates. Global performance (with all subjects' data combined) and subject-level performance of the algorithm were compared at the trip level. Results: At the GPS point level, the overall agreement rate of travel mode detection was 77.4% between PALMS and the travel diary. The agreement rate for vehicular trip detection (84.5%) was higher than for bicycling (53.5%) and walking (58.2%). At the trip level, the global performance and subject-level performance of the PALMS algorithm were 46.4% and 42.4%, respectively. Vehicular trip detection showed highest agreement rates in all analyses. Study participants' primary travel mode and car ownership were significantly related to the subject-level mode agreement rates. Conclusions: The PALMS algorithm showed moderate identification power at the GPS point level. However, trip level analyses found lower agreement rates between PALMS and travel diary data, especially for active transportation. Testing different PALMS parameter settings may serve to improve the detection of active travel and help expand PALMS's applicability in geographically different urbanized areas with a variety of travel modes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number40
JournalInternational Journal of Health Geographics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 3 Dec 2018


  • Accelerometer
  • Automated algorithm
  • GIS
  • GPS
  • Places
  • Trips


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