The National Academies

NCHRP 08-173 [Pending]

NCHRP 08-173: Impacts of E-Commerce on Travel and Land Use Patterns

  Project Data
Funds: $400,000
Contract Time: 24 months
Staff Responsibility: Jennifer L. Weeks


E-commerce (electronic commerce) generally refers to the buying and selling of goods and services over an electronic network, primarily the Internet. These transactions occur either as business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), consumer-to-consumer, or consumer-to-business. Although e-commerce has long been a part of the commercial and freight distribution landscapes, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted considerable growth in e-commerce, affecting the business models of numerous commercial establishments as well as delivery and other service industries. Advanced communications and delivery technologies improved the convenience of e-commerce to shoppers, attracting new customers and developing strong consumer bases. Even as the pandemic winds down, e-commerce remains a principal means of distributing goods to markets and consumers.  

The growth of e-commerce has transformed land use and transportation in settings ranging from small communities and rural areas to suburban areas and cities. Research is needed to fully comprehend the qualitative and quantitative effects of e-commerce to effectively integrate e-commerce into transportation and land use policy and investment decision-making. The research will be useful to transportation and land use planners and practitioners, but also will provide useful information for executive leadership, elected officials, and the general public. 


The objective of this research is to develop a guide on the effects of e-commerce on transportation and land use, including the impacts on transportation systems and freight delivery as well as on the communities and land uses that support them. The guide shall provide practical strategies, methods, and techniques on how to measure and project the effects of e-commerce on transportation and land use, and how to incorporate e-commerce into transportation analysis and decision-making processes and functions. 

The guide shall address three major categories of inquiry:

1. What is the definition of e-commerce? Define e-commerce from transportation, freight planning and operations, urban planning, and land use perspectives. Seek to identify a common definition or taxonomy of e-commerce that is understandable by a variety of stakeholders, including but not limited to state departments of transportation and their local and regional partners in transportation and land use, retailers, suppliers, carriers, consumers, and the general public. Identify different types of e-commerce activities and the roles and interests of different stakeholders with respect to these activities. Identify the various technologies in use for distribution, including such novel modes as cargo bikes, autonomous drones, and other technologies.

2. What are the impacts of e-commerce on transportation and land use? Identify the direct and indirect effects of e-commerce on transportation and land use policy, processes, and investments in the public and private sectors to support and optimize e-commerce activity. Classify the impacts of current trends in e-commerce on travel behavior, transportation planning, urban planning, and land use and implications for workforce development, equity, economic development, and sustainability.

3. What are the policies, data, practices, and applications in use today to accommodate and support e-commerce into transportation systems and land use?   

Document policies, programs, and practices in which e-commerce and direct-to-consumer activities have been incorporated into analyses, models, and land use planning. Include all modes (maritime, air cargo, rail, and trucking) in e-commerce activity, along with different varieties of land uses.



Task 1.  Conduct and summarize a comprehensive review of academic, public agency, and professional literature, including ongoing and completed NCHRP research related to the topic. This literature review shall be organized by three major categories of inquiry identified in the project objective.

Task 2.  Survey, interview, or otherwise engage agency and professional practitioners from the public and private sectors to understand specific needs and gaps in information and understanding, tools, methods, and techniques agencies have available to identify and analyze the effects of e-commerce on transportation decision-making. This qualitative analysis will enhance the information collected in the literature review as well as identify gaps and informational needs for the guide.

The engagement should include the input and perspectives of a wide variety of stakeholders from different geographic settings, such as: 

  • Shippers and carriers;
  • Retailers;
  • Major ports of entry for international cargo (air and water);
  • Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) of varying size and significance relative to this issue; 
  • Local transportation and land use agencies;  
  • Community groups (to discuss the impacts of e-commerce on community quality-of-life and equity); and
  • Industry groups.

Task 3.  Document the industry state of practice featuring a matrix, chart, or other visualization to categorize practices and key findings from Tasks 1 and 2. At a minimum the report shall include a summary of existing impacts and practices and shall identify areas of need with respect to understanding, quantifying, analyzing, and addressing the impacts of e-commerce on transportation decision-making.

Task 4.  Develop a Phase II work plan that builds on the information collected during previous tasks and identifies new tasks and activities, as needed, to supplement and/or further analyze the data, and refine the contents of the final deliverable. The work plan shall include a detailed outline of the content and format of the guide. Based on the analysis of information and data generated in Phase I, proposers may recommend additional elements or products that would facilitate the understanding and use of the guide in practice such as case study practice examples, tools, checklists, matrices, or decision frameworks.

Task 5. Develop an interim report that provides a detailed description of the research process and data collected in Phase I. The report shall summarize observations and conclusions drawn from these activities and identify gaps in knowledge and practice that agencies and other stakeholders can take in their efforts to support and manage e-commerce in transportation and land use. 


Task 6. Conduct one or more virtual workshops, webinars, or peer exchange discussions with practitioners of different backgrounds to share the proposed structure and contents of the guide and to obtain input on any improvements that could be made. Proposers should identify how they will identify and engage stakeholders, drawing from the individuals and groups identified during Task 2 as appropriate.

Task 7. Address and update the guide in accordance with comments received from the NCHRP panel and in response to stakeholder engagement obtained in Task 6.

Task 8. Prepare the final deliverables including the final guide and (1) a Conduct of Research report that summarizes the research approach; (2) an Implementation Plan that sets forth a specific strategy for generating applications of the research in practice; and (3) any additional products identified in the approved Phase II work plan.   

Proposals have been received in response to the RFP.  The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.


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