Mokhtarian ‘resurrects joy of travel’ in UCLA’s Wachs Lecture

Thursday, October 16, 2014

(Photo Courtesy of UCLA's Lewis Center.)

Joy in traveling. Hard to imagine being joyful as you look at a stream of taillights ahead of you during your evening commute.

But the idea of travel being less utilitarian and more pleasurable was one of the key themes of Professor Patricia Mokhtarian’s Martin Wachs Lecture last week at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The annual lecture “features prominent and innovative scholars and policymakers who draw on many years of research and thinking in transportation and/or urban planning,” according to the University of California Transportation Center.

More on Mokhtarian’s presentation from the Lewis Center in UCLA’s School of Public Affairs:

Author Leo Tolstoy once wrote: “All great literature is one of two stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.” Both of these archetypal stories involve travel, a subtle connection which may speak to an intrinsic link between travel and the significant experiences that bring meaning to our lives. Yet as Georgia Tech professor Patricia Mokhtarian pointed out in a masterful 8th Annual Martin Wachs lecture, the view of travel among transportation officials in early 21st century has come to feel largely negative.

Speaking at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs this past Thursday, Mokhtarian lamented that travel is now viewed primarily as a “derived demand,” which means travel occurs only so that people can enjoy the goods and experiences attained at their destination but not because the journey in and of itself brings enjoyment. Mokhtarian made clear from the beginning that her aim was to restore balance to how we conceive of travel by placing travel into the category of behaviors that have a dual nature: those that have on the one hand a utilitarian (functional) aspect, yet also bring a hedonic (pleasing) dimension. Travel in this positive sense can be viewed as similar to the act of eating: just as eating food can bring with it a pleasure that has little to do with nutritional sustenance, travel can bring a positive feeling unrelated to one’s ultimate destination.