Understanding Individual Human Mobility Patterns

June 1, 2008

MC Gonzalez, CA Hidalgo, A-L Barabasi


Despite their importance for urban planning1 , traffic forecasting2 and the spread of biological3–5 and mobile viruses6 , our understanding of the basic laws governing human motion remains limited owing to the lack of tools to monitor the time-resolved location of individuals. Here we study the trajectory of 100,000 anonymized mobile phone users whose position is tracked for a six-month period. We find that, in contrast with the random trajectories predicted by the prevailing Le´vy flight and random walk models7 , human trajectories show a high degree of temporal and spatial regularity, each individual being characterized by a timeindependent characteristic travel distance and a significant probability to return to a few highly frequented locations. After correcting for differences in travel distances and the inherent anisotropy of each trajectory, the individual travel patterns collapse into a single spatial probability distribution, indicating that, despite the diversity of their travel history, humans follow simple reproducible patterns. This inherent similarity in travel patterns could impact all phenomena driven by human mobility, from epidemic prevention to emergency response, urban planning and agent-based modelling.

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