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How does machine learning compare to conventional econometrics for transport data sets? A test of ML versus MLE

Weijia (Vivian) Li and Kara M. Kockelman

Growth and Change, 2022, vol. 53, issue 1, 342-376

Abstract: Machine learning (ML) is being used regularly in many different fields. This paper compares traditional econometric methods that have better explanations of data analysis to ML methods, focusing on predicting, understanding and unpacking ML methods which have higher prediction accuracies of four key transport‐planning variables: household vehicle‐miles traveled (continuous variable), household vehicle ownership (count variable), mode choice (categorical variable), and land use change (categorical variable with strong spatial interactions). Here, the results of ten ML methods are compared to methods of ordinary least squares (OLS), multinomial logit (MNL), negative binomial and spatial auto‐regressive (SAR). The U.S.’s 2017 National Household Travel Survey and land use data sets from the Dallas‐Ft. Worth region of Texas are used. Results suggest traditional econometric methods work pretty well on the more continuous responses (VMT and vehicle ownership), but the random forest (RF), gradient boosting decision trees (GBDT), and extreme gradient boosting (XGBoost) methods delivered the best results, though the RF model required 30 to almost 60 times more computing time than XGBoost and GBDT methods. The RF, GBDT, XGBoost, light gradient boosting method (lightGBM), and catboost offer better results than other methods for the two “classification” cases, with lightGBM being the most time‐efficient. Importantly, ML methods captured the plateauing effect modelers may expect when extrapolating covariate effects.

Date: 2022
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