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Shoppers on Rue Ste-Catherine in downtown Montreal, Que. (File photo) (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Shoppers on Rue Ste-Catherine in downtown Montreal, Que. (File photo) (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Road Sage

Bleeding money on your way home? That's a trip chain Add to ...

You know all those annoying stops you have to make in the course of even the most routine journey? Well, they have a name for it now: it’s your “trip chain.”

Trip chaining is the act of making a series of intermediate stops on the way to your ultimate destination. For instance, if, on the way to work, you stop to pick up a coffee, and then drop off the kids at school, and then stop at the dry-cleaners and then wearily drive to the office, you’ve just completed a single trip chain with three stops and four trip stages.

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Trip chain.

It has a nice sound. It has a light ring to it. It sounds much better than “tiresome short-term destinations where you tarry and bleed money on your way home.” It sounds so sweet that if someone asked, “How was your trip chain?”, you’d almost always say “fine.”

Last July, Statistics Canada released the results of a study of gender and Canadian trip chaining. Analysts examined data from the 2005 Canadian Vehicle Survey, a voluntary, vehicle-based study started in 1999. To be considered a “trip chain” journeys had to be consecutive, made on the same day, made by light vehicles (less than 4,500 kilograms) and not made as part of a work task. A sample of 21,915 vehicles was drawn from all 10 provinces for the survey.

The survey showed that men made more individual trips, but women made more stops. The longer the trip chain, the more likely the driver was to be a woman. In the morning, women were more likely to stop at schools, day-cares and shops after they leave home.

“During the evening commute,” according to a Statistics Canada news release, “a higher percentage of men than women drive directly home. A higher percentage of women drive to shopping centres, banks and other places of personal business, as their next stop after leaving work.”

You can tell a lot about a person from their trip chain.

If your morning trip chain is “Tim Horton’s, dry cleaner, drug store, work,” then you are an average Canadian.

If your morning trip chain is “Tim Horton’s, liquor store, Tim Horton’s (because the liquor store is not open yet), liquor store, No Frill’s, the Vaseline Outlet Store, the chain store, home” then you are either a university professor, unemployed or living an alternative lifestyle.

My average evening commute trip chain is as follows: “gas station, place where I stare bleakly out on to Lake Ontario, Book City, home.”

My dream trip chain would be “bank withdrawal, bank withdrawal, bank withdrawal, all-you-can-eat sushi, airport, Jamaica.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s morning trip chain might go like this, “Tim Horton’s, soundproof room, gym, cauldron, House of Commons.”

The study found that men make the most one-stage trips. The sexes split evenly on two-stage trips, but when it came to three-, four- or five-stage trip chains, “women led men in every group.” This would leave us to believe that, when women leave home, they really don’t want to go to work and, when they leave work, they really don’t want to go home.

It might also indicate that women do most, if not all, of the domestic stops. The study supported this assertion. “Men predominated in heading for leisure, entertainment, recreational facilities and restaurants by 61 per cent to 39 per cent. …Women leaving work in the evening led [men] in driving to schools or day-cares by 63 per cent to 37 per cent. They also led 56 per cent to 44 per cent in driving to shopping centres, banks and other places of personal business.”

Right now, you’re all probably wondering the same thing: “So?”

You’re thinking, “It’s great that they have a name for all the miserable chores I have to do on my way home, but – to borrow a term from the late Peggy Lee – Is that All There Is?”

Well, yes, actually. If engineers and transport planners can read our trip chain habits, then they’ll be able to do a better job creating transit routes, traffic-calming measures and zoning retail locations. If planners know when and where we’re stopping, then they can fine-tune “no stopping” and “no parking” times.

“Hey,” a city planner might say, “a lot of folks are making the Vaseline Outlet a part of their morning trip chains. Maybe we should make it ‘no parking’ in front of the Vaseline Outlet every morning so we can hit all those dry-skinned people with tickets to make money for the city.”

“Good idea,” his co-worker might reply, “and maybe we should put liquor stores next to banks and put both of these at the end of traffic-jammed highways so that people treat their frustration with three-hour commutes by applying alcohol to it when they get home?”

So, let’s get behind this, everyone.

All aboard the trip chain.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

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Follow on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

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