Travel surveys

Travel surveys have been conducted for over 50 years. At the beginning of the 1950s the field of transportation planning had begun evolving into the regional type of planning performed today, and it was quickly realized that roadside surveys alone were not sufficient for regional planning purposes. Hence, the household travel survey was developed and quickly became industry standard. In the early days of household travel surveys, large data sets were collected using face-to-face home interviews with sample sizes that were often as big as 1–3% of the population.

The most common types of travel surveys include:

  • Household travel surveys which are used to track the travel behavior and/or activities of households, generally employing journal methods,

  • External surveys which are used to understand vehicle travelers entering or leaving a study area, or crossing key screenlines within a study area,

  • Transit onboard surveys which are used to track transit passengers as they travel,

  • Commercial vehicle surveys which are surveys of taxi and truck owners, operators, or dispatchers that are designed to track commercial vehicle travel,

  • Establishment surveys which are taken at places of employment to develop trip attraction measures,

  • Visitor surveys which are specialized surveys designed to describe travel by visitors, and travel to and from special trip generators such as airports,

  • Parking surveys which are used to understand parking behavior in specific locations or parking lots,

  • Stated-preference surveys which are used to ask questions about travel preferences, and

  • Gamified web-based surveys can be used in special circumstances.

# Generic Survey Process

Backstrom and Hursh-Cesar (1981)[1] divided the generic survey implementation process into the 20 steps. These 20 steps can be classified into five general stages: (1) survey planning, (2) survey design, (3) field implementation, (4) data preparation, and (5) data analysis.

# Survey Planning

# Survey Design

# Field Implementation

# Data Preparation

# Data Analysis

# Current Concerns

Sample sizes have dropped considerably in the last few decades due to rising costs with lower response rates. Surveys are now often in the range of 2500–10,000 households, which usually represents significantly less than 1% of households in the region. Because funding for travel surveys is decreasing as government budgets become tighter, travel data are also being collected less frequently.

# Recent Methods

Several methods have been adopted to augment the traditional, diary-based household travel surveys. Some of these methods include GPS-enabled surveys and longitudinal surveys. See the paper "Household travel surveys: Where are we going?"[2] for an overview. In this paper, Stopher and Greaves (2007) talk about GPS-enabled surveys and longitudinal surveys. They also review a study which tests the use of synthetic_travel_data, which was constructed using census data and a national household travel survey.

# Gamified Web-Based Surveys

Why a gamified survey? Gamified web-based surveys are becoming more common in market research to encourage response. The main problem we face with online research is motivating people to take part in surveys and give us their full attention during the time they are completing them. The key reason for this problem is simply that surveys are generally seen as being boring.

A ‘gamified’ web-based surveys is useful when there already is information about the population of interest: this kind of survey will not give you representative data about a full population. Respondents are typically younger, male, and interested in the topic. It helps to have a larger population-based sample to help with population estimation and put the results of the gamified stated responses into context.

Gamified approaches are considered when the in the following cases::

  1. The target sample was a “hard to reach" population
  2. Need to increase interest and engagement (perhaps previous surveys had a lot of drop-outs)
  3. There are quite a few options or paths for the respondent to consider. A gamified approach allows us to experiment with scenarios and barriers to link behavior in the game with stated motivations (such as in stated preference or stated response surveys)

Attributes of the ‘gamified’ survey:

  • Alternatives presented graphically with animation and a bit of humor
  • Set up as a quest or a mission
  • Respondents had to identify and play out a scenario
  • “Beat the clock” competition and prizes

The game should be designed in detail before any graphics are developed. Every question, the complete questionnaire ‘flow’, and all response categories should be decided upon before graphic development. Other cautions:

Be careful of ‘Tone’: what may be edgy to one person is off-putting to another

Don’t give too much information: people can only absorb so much in a single screen

Looking at secondary choices when typical behavior is blocked is an important data element. But, don’t frustrate the players too much with barriers and blocks; every page should have a ‘skip’ option.

Keep it short

Ask for people motivations and then give them choices to show how they would behave (or visa-versa): getting the ‘stated reason’ and the choice-path in the game are both valuable and together very powerful.

Before adding a lot of demographic information to the survey, look and see what Google analytics can provide.

It is possible to sample in a specific geography by having people enter zip code or other location data to play.

Beware of web-bots: many many will try to get into your portal and crash the site. It is useful to start a web-based survey/game with a required response to weed out web-bots.

“Scalability” across many browsers and devices is currently a challenge, but expect HTTP/2 to help. Plan to spend resources making sure the web survey is equally responsive on different devices and through different browsers. A full pre-test is valuable and Google analytics also has some helpful information.

Remember: On-line surveys in general are not probability samples, there is bias from self-selection.

The gamified approach has not been tested enough to say that the data from a game approach is more reliable than data obtained from traditional methods. There is still “non-commitment” bias—the fact that respondents are playing a game and not making choices in the real world. People can say they would use an alternative without having to actually commit themselves to the inconvenience and uncertainty of shifting to a new mode or route. In actual situations, people may find it more difficult to change their habitual travel patterns.

However, the little research that has been done shows there was very little item non-response, quite a bit of ‘sharing’ on social media, and respondents wanting to play more than once (you have to decide whether to allow multiple plays and how to code them).

Overall, the testing of gamified approaches shows the data were coherent and the results were useful.

# References

The Online Travel Survey Manual provides a comprehensive overview of travel surveys. It is curated by Transportation Research Board’s Travel Survey Methods Committee (ABJ40).

  1. Backstrom, Charles and Gerald Hursh-Cesar. (1981) Survey Research, 2nd edition, John Wiley & Sons. ↩︎

  2. Stopher, P. R., & Greaves, S. P. (2007). Household travel surveys: Where are we going? Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 41(5), 367-381. Chicago. ↩︎

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