Driven to Shop: Power Retail and Consumer Mobility

Decades of transportation research and recent policy efforts (e.g., MPIR, 2006) aimed at understanding and shaping the relationship between travel demand and urban development have focused largely on the journey to work.9 While there are compelling reasons for focusing on commuting,10 less attention has been given to the relationship between retail trends and consumer travel demand. This omission is remarkable, given the mounting evidence of rising levels of travel for non-work activities (Gordon et al., 1988; USDOT FHWA, 1995; Handy et al., 2002; USDOT BTS, 2006).11 Data from the United States indicate that trips for "family and personal business" (which includes shopping) account for 45 percent of daily trips, while work and work-related trips account for only 18 percent of daily trips (USDOT BTS, 2003). Other evidence suggests that non-work travel represents as much as 75 percent of all trips in urban areas (Bhat, 1998).

Within the GTA, data from the Transportation Tomorrow Survey indicate that since 1986, discretionary trip-making has increased at a faster rate than travel for work or school purposes (JPT, 2005). These findings offer compelling reasons for investigating consumer travel for shopping purposes, with a view to advancing policy aimed at reducing road congestion and other problems associated with automobile use. Critical thinking about the impact of retail on environmental, economic, and social systems should, however, be balanced by an acknowledgement of the integral role of retailing in sustaining household, local, and regional economies.

This section examines three questions associated with consumer transportation and shopping across the power retail and enclosed mall formats available within the Greater Toronto Area:

  • When are consumers travelling for shopping purposes to traffic zones containing power retail or enclosed regional or super regional malls?
  • When consumers travel to traffic zones containing power retail or enclosed regional or super regional malls, how are they getting there (e.g., auto-driver, transit, etc.)?
  • What is the pattern of consumer travel demand for shopping within traffic zones containing power retail or enclosed regional or super-regional malls?

The responses can only describe, rather than explain, the changing and current state of consumer travel to traffic zones containing power retail locations and enclosed malls within the Greater Toronto Area.

We begin with a literature review of recent evidence on the transformative impact of power retail on consumer mobility, followed by a study of consumer flows for power retail and enclosed mall shopping within the Greater Toronto Area. The section concludes with a discussion of the implications of the findings for regional transportation and growth management planning and policy.

9. In academic circles, considerable effort has been made to understand consumer travel for shopping, particularly throughout the 1990s, but most studies have focused on commuting.
10. For example, the capacity of the passenger transport system is particularly "stressed" during periods of peak travel. Moreover, during the journey to work a large share of the population arguably experiences the most challenging conditions within which to operate a personal vehicle. In other words, the commuter's experience with the problems of personal transport during peak hours focuses the public's attention on resolving the tension between economic productivity and vehicular congestion.
11. Despite evidence of the increasing role of discretionary activities in everyday life relative to the commute, much of the focus in regional or national reporting of travel behaviour remains focused on commuting, and it is surprisingly difficult to isolate "shopping" behaviours from the remaining trip purposes (see for example, USDOT BTS, 2006).