This page is open for editing because it is part of the Incubator. Have something to add? Please register so you can contribute. Have an option you would like to share? Please click on the 'Talk' button to enter the dialogue. The TF Resource Volunteers appreciate your feedback and interest.

Introduction to Transit on-board surveys

Transit on-board surveys are conducted to collect data for scheduling and operations planning, long-range planning and design, performance analy­sis, preparation of statistics and reports, and market evaluations. In many areas, transit ridership is a small percentage of total person trips, and data collected in a household travel survey may not have enough responses to adequately represent the trip patterns of transit users. A well designed transit on-board survey provides detailed information, such as ridership and demographic profiles by route, transfer characteristics and fare-class utilization, as well as accurate sample counts of boardings by station or stop.

Transit on-board surveys obtain travel data by intercepting respondents traveling on a surveyed transit vehicle. The intercept method is considered to be an accurate type of data collection since respondents do not have time to forget the characteristics of their trips. The on-board survey data can be used in models for analyzing new transit alternatives or future transit facilities such as intermodal terminals. The transit on-board data allow corridor level analysis of service options such as increased service, limited-stop (express) routes, and priority bus-lane treatments.

On-board transit surveys may also include attitudinal components to determine how passengers learn about routes and times, to assess the reasons that individuals ride transit, or to explore amenities (such as lighting at bus stops) which may mitigate rider concerns (such as personal security). Data such as these can help determine marketing potential for new fare policies, services, or amenities.

In addition to information on the person trips on the sampled transit routes, total boardings and alightings on each sampled vehicle are directly collected. These data, in conjunction with the total number of vehicle trips on the survey day made on each sampled route by time period and direction, will permit the calculation of average boardings per route per time period by direction. In addition, these data provide the basis for survey sample expansion to represent the entire population of transit users.

Boarding and alighting counts taken at stations or bus stops, or on-board checks, use a survey design that is fairly uniform among operators and are used on a continuing basis by many transit agencies to obtain the passenger trip length data mandated by the FTA.

In many transit on-board surveys, the transit operator will be a sponsor or co-sponsor of the survey and will therefore be part of the survey team. Even when the operator is not a survey sponsor, it is advantageous to include the operator as part of the team. This will greatly assist in obtaining data from the agency, coordinating with drivers, etc.


This introduction is from Chapter 16 of the Travel Survey Manual, authored by Arash Mirzaei, Patrick Bonnel and Ken Cervenka and more recently updated by Guy Rousseau. The original material draws from Chapter 8 of the FHWA Travel Survey Manual.