International Choice Modelling Conference, International Choice Modelling Conference 2017

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Modelling the role and impact of variety-seeking on mode choice behaviour in the context of air-HSR intermodality
Fangqing Song, Stephane Hess, Thijs Dekker

Last modified: 28 March 2017



Several airlines have started collaborating with high-speed rail (HSR) services, enabling passengers who cannot be served by direct flights to use an integrated air-HSR service instead of purchasing travel services on different legs separately. Though air-HSR intermodality has existed in several countries for a number of years, published studies of passenger choices in such a context are limited to work in Spain (see for example Román and Martín, 2014). To the author’s knowledge, no comparable study on this newly-introduced service has been conducted in China, which now has the world largest HSR network.

The purpose of our work goes beyond the simple (transport research specific) study of mode choice and instead looks at the wider topic of variety-seeking behaviour. Based on the work of McAlister and Pessemier (1982), apart from externally influenced behaviour, people may vary behaviour due to internal causes directly. Indeed, there is some evidence that decision makers may derive utility from change itself, irrespective of the alternative (s)he switches to or from (McAlister, 1982; Givon, 1984). Other studies also justify the feasibility of differentiating pure variety-seeking from other decision strategies, e.g. full information evaluation and pure habit (Adamowicz and Swait, 2012). In this context we seek to examine the effect of variety-seeking behaviour, under the assumption that some passengers are more willing to try the newly-emerged air-HSR intermodal service while some others are more stick to old habits.

Although variety-seeking behaviour has been widely addressed in consumer research (see for example Ratner and Kahn, 2002), work in an advanced choice modelling context is more limited, and non-existent in the case of mode choice for intercity travel. Accounting for variety-seeking behaviour could enable researchers to better understand respondents’ decision strategies and provide insights for market segmentation.


We examine variety-seeking behaviour in mode choice in the context of air-HSR intermodality through three approaches, which are the chi-squared automatic interaction detection (CHAID) technique, hybrid discrete choice models and dynamic choice models.

Our work starts with the development of a psychometric scale aimed at measuring variety seeking. This is followed by a stated choice survey, capturing data on preferences for intermodality as well as respondent-specific values for the indicators identified in the tested psychometric scale.

In the first part of the modelling stage, we use CHAID to segment the respondents based on their responses to the indicators about variety-seeking. CHAID is adopted as it is “the most appropriate technique for selecting the more meaningful or important segmentation variable as an intermediate step for benefit segmentation” (Chung et al., 2004) and “the selected predictors can be utilised in further analysis or prediction of the dependent variable” (Kass, 1980). This is followed by choice models using the factors produced in this work to explain how variety-seeking affect choice decision.

Moving to the more refined modelling work, we develop a hybrid choice model which treats variety-seeking as a latent variable, following the general structure of such models (cf. Ben-Akiva et al., 2002). The indicators in the tested psychometric scale are employed as manifestations of variety-seeking. We will study the formation of this latent variable and explore differences across key socio-demographic segments. A similar attempt of involving variety-seeking in explaining daily travel behaviour was addressed by Rieser-Schüssler and Axhausen (2012).

In the final step, we explain the impact of variety-seeking on mode choice decision in a dynamic way which draws on the information we collect on passengers’ past choices, going back several years. In this way, variety seeking behaviour is assumed to be inventory-based, i.e. are based on the attributes of choice alternatives which are cumulative (Borgers et al., 1989). This approach is made possible in the present context given the rapid developments of the HSR network in China in recent years alongside the growing opportunities for intermodality.

This research provides researchers with better market strategies of air-HSR intermodality in particular and to offer further understandings on detecting and evaluating the impact of variety-seeking on choice behaviour with discrete choice models in general.


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