Ask the Experts–Using MOVES, the EPA’s New Emissions Model

How can my transportation agency use the EPA’s new emissions model, MOVES?

MOVES can be used for a variety of applications, including those required by federal regulations related to transportation conformity in air quality nonattainment areas and/or to support innovative new emissions modeling needs. It is a powerful new tool with a wide range of capabilities. MOVES has integrated the most up-to-date data and inventory methods related to on-road, mobile source emissions inventory development. It provides emission rates that vary with speed for particulate matter (PM) and greenhouse gases (GHG), which is a significant improvement from the previous emissions model MOBILE6 where these emission rates were constant for all speeds. Also, MOVES has a graphical user interface (GUI) as shown in Figure 1, which is more user-friendly than the text based coding employed by MOBILE6. These improvements plus a new capability to consider detailed travel activity data when evaluating project-level highway operational changes makes MOVES the logical choice for any type of emissions modeling. Nonattainment areas that are currently using MOBILE6 for regional transportation conformity purposes will be required to use MOVES instead for any conformity determinations conducted after March 2, 2012. For nonattainment areas concerned with project-level conformity the release of MOVES creates a new requirement for quantitative project level analysis using MOVES, which will become effective on December 20, 2012.

Figure 1. MOVES Graphical User Interface (GUI)

[MOVES Graphical User Interface (GUI)]

Table 1 shows emissions analysis categories that MOVES can model depending on an area’s needs and concerns.

Table 1. MOVES Model Capabilities

Emissions Analysis Category

Air Emissions Included


Criteria Air Pollutants

Ozone Precursors (NOx and VOC), Particulate Matter (PM2.5 and PM10), Carbon Monoxide (CO), NO2a

Public health, transportation conformity, and attaining national air quality standards

Greenhouse Gases

Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Methane (CH4)

Transportation’s contribution to climate change

Energy Usage

Total Energy Consumption

Transportation’s contribution to energy independence

Mobile Source Air Toxics

Benzene; Naphthalene; 1,3-Butadiene; Formaldehyde; Acetaldehyde; Acrolein; and Diesel
Particulate Matter

Cancer and other health effects

Applying MOVES for the Results You Need

MOVES can be applied using three options that correspond to the type of analysis required. These options vary in data requirements, and in the specificity of model outputs.

  • National – This mode uses national defaults for the various required inputs and therefore minimizes the need for local data. This is useful for many general applications where there are no regulations requiring the use of local inputs, such as greenhouse gas analysis, sketch planning, and scenario planning. This option is not allowable for purposes of transportation conformity.
  • County – This mode requires local inputs for a number of items and is designed to be compliant with regulations for transportation conformity analysis in areas that do not attain the national air quality standards. Many inputs are similar to those required by MOBILE6, the EPA’s previous emissions model; however, there are also several new inputs required, such as vehicle population and vehicle miles travelled (VMT) by vehicle type.
  • Project – This mode requires many of the local inputs required under county mode plus characteristics of roadways and vehicle operation patterns within the project area. Since this mode was not available in MOBILE6, it offers a new opportunity to evaluate the emissions impacts of major projects that change the operational patterns of roadways. This mode can be used for quantitative hot-spot analysis that may be required for certain projects in air quality non-attainment areas.

How Agencies are using MOVES

Cambridge Systematics has been using MOVES since its draft release in 2009 for a number of different applications for different clients. For example:

Conformity Analysis

We have supported Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in the use of MOVES for transportation conformity in Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Indianapolis. As part of our support to MPOs in their transition to MOVES, we have identified MOVES data needs and sources and prepared data inputs for MOVES. Figure 2 summarizes the various MOVES data input requirements and potential data sources available to MPOs for purposes of transportation conformity.

Figure 2. MOVES Data Requirements and Potential Data Sources

[MOVES Data Requirements and Potential Data Sources]

Evaluating Emission Reduction Strategies

Cambridge Systematics is also currently using MOVES to evaluate changes in emissions resulting from highway operations strategies for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This project takes advantage of MOVES’ ability to derive emission rates from second-by-second speeds derived from micro-simulation models. This new capability makes it possible to estimate the benefits from innovative emission reduction strategies such as eco-driving. Additionally, we have used MOVES to provide greenhouse gas estimates for several scenarios within the Hillsborough County MPO’s (FL) Long-Range Transportation Plan. CS is also using MOVES to estimate changes in air toxics emissions in several cities where New Starts transit projects are proposed. Cambridge Systematics has also developed the first air quality postprocessor using MOVES in Florida on behalf of the Florida Department of Transportation (Figure 3). This air quality postprocessor framework will be used by several MPOs and Districts throughout the State for transportation conformity and scenario analysis.

Figure 3. Link NOx Emissions Calculated Using FDOT Air Quality Postprocessor

[Link NOx Emissions Calculated Using FDOT Air Quality Postprocessor]

Linking MOVES to transportation models

Cambridge Systematics is a national leader in air quality, climate change and greenhouse gas analysis related to transportation. Due to our expertise in travel demand and micro-simulation modeling we have the unique capability to link MOVES to these transportation models. Cambridge Systematics has developed MOVES based air quality pre- and post-processors for travel demand models in most of the cases listed above. It is important to note that major structural changes to emissions rates output by MOVES usually require major updates to air quality post processors that many MPOs have set up based on MOBILE6. Additionally, we have developed similar pre-processors for simulation models to provide operating mode distributions to run MOVES in project mode.

David Kall is a Senior Professional of Cambridge Systematics with experience in air quality and greenhouse gas analysis, and transportation planning. He has conducted customized MOVES training for the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and performed MOVES runs for a multitude of applications. He is currently leading a task for the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) to use MOVES in combination with air quality post processors to estimate changes in emissions due to transit projects.