Assessing the role of geographic context in transportation mode detection from GPS data

Avipsa Roy, Daniel Fuller, Trisalyn Nelson, Peter Kedron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The increasing availability of health monitoring devices and smartphones has created an opportunity for researchers to access high-resolution (spatial and temporal) mobility data for understanding travel behavior in cities. Although information from GPS data has been used in several studies to detect transportation modes, there is a research gap in understanding the role of geographic context in transportation mode detection. Integrating the geography in which mobility occurs, provides context clues that may allow models predicting transportation modes to be more generalizable. Our goals are first, to develop a data-driven modeling framework for transportation mode detection using GPS mobility data along with geographic context, and second, to assess how model accuracy and generalizability varies upon adding geographic context. To this extent we extracted features from raw GPS mobility data (speed, altitude, turning angle and net displacement) and integrated context in the form of geographic features to classify active (i.e. walk/bike), public (i.e. bus/train), and private (i.e. car) transportation modes in three different Canadian cities - Montreal, St. Johns, and Vancouver. To assess the role of integrating geographic context in mode detection, we adopted two different modeling approaches – generalized and context-specific, and compared results using random forests, extreme gradient boost, and multilayer perceptron classifiers. Our results indicate that for context-specific models the highest classification accuracy improved by 64% for Montreal, by 74% for St. John's and by 77% for Vancouver compared to the generalized model. We also found that the multilayer perceptron (96%) achieved the highest classification accuracy upon adding contextual variables compared to random forests (94.6%) and extreme gradient boost (93.3%) classifier. Our study highlights that adding contextual information specific to a city's geography can improve the predictive accuracy of transportation mode detection models, however, in case of limited knowledge about the geographic setting of a study area, a generalized model combining GPS data from several cities may still be useful for predicting modes from trip data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103330
JournalJournal of Transport Geography
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • GPS
  • Geographic context
  • Model generalizability
  • Supervised learning
  • Travel mode detection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Transportation
  • Environmental Science(all)


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