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Improving the accuracy of freight mode choice models: A case study using the 2017 CFS PUF data set and ensemble learning techniques

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Expert Systems with Applications
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The US Census Bureau has collected two rounds of experimental data from the Commodity Flow Survey, providing shipment-level characteristics of nationwide commodity movements, published in 2012 (i.e., Public Use Microdata) and in 2017 (i.e., Public Use File). With this information, data-driven methods have become increasingly valuable for understanding detailed patterns in freight logistics. In this study, we used the 2017 Commodity Flow Survey Public Use File data set to explore building a high-performance freight mode choice model, considering three main improvements: (1) constructing local models for each separate commodity/industry category; (2) extracting useful geographical features, particularly the derived distance of each freight mode between origin/destination zones; and (3) applying additional ensemble learning methods such as stacking or voting to combine results from local and unified models for improved performance. The proposed method achieved over 92% accuracy without incorporating external information, an over 19% increase compared to directly fitting Random Forests models over 10,000 samples. Furthermore, SHAP (Shapely Additive Explanations) values were computed to explain the outputs and major patterns obtained from the proposed model. The model framework could enhance the performance and interpretability of existing freight mode choice models.