Comparing Modes of On-Board Transit Passenger Surveys: Assessing Trade-Offs Between Data Quality and Cost
Project Number: 1206
This project will investigate the relative costs, response rates, survey completion rates, and respondent demographics for several different modes of implementing transit rider surveys.
Hilary Nixon, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Urban & Regional Planning, SJSU
Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Urban & Regional Planning, SJSU
Gregory Newmark, Ph.D., Adjunct Lecturer, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago
Allan Mark Rimban, Graduate Research Assistant, San Jose State University
This project will investigate the relative costs and quality for three different modes of implementing transit rider surveys.
Transit agencies invest tremendous financial and time resources into surveying their customers. These efforts are justified as the data collected are fundamental inputs for a range of purposes including “travel modeling, long-range and areawide planning, route planning and scheduling, service design, marketing, and customer communications” (Schaller 2005). In addition, these surveys are, as of Fall 2012, required by a new Federal Transit Agency circular to ensure participation from minority and low-income populations who have historically under-participated in such efforts.
Despite the critical value of transit surveys, they are also very costly to agencies, easily running $500,000 to a $1 million for a large agency. Thus, there is a need to identify the lowest cost survey mode options that can still produce quality results.
The results of this research, comparing cost and quality for three different modes of surveying transit riders, will provide transit agencies a quantified assessment of the tradeoffs in terms of cost and quality of the distinct surveying modes. The three modes to be compared with be determined as part of the project, but are highly likely to be: (1) a paper-based, self-administered survey, (2) a paper-based self-administered short survey followed by a computer assisted telephone survey, and (3) a paper-based self-administered short survey on a postcard followed by an internet survey.
For each survey mode, this project analysis will:
- Identify the cost per completed survey.
- Derive response and completion rates.
- Quantify any statistically significant demographic differences in participation.
- Describe associated logistical challenges and pitfalls.
Transit agencies and their surveying consultants will use this information to more effectively determine their surveying methodology. The results of this study will enable more realistic survey planning through improved anticipation of response rates, revealed participation biases of different social groups, and described logistical difficulties.
- Conduct literature review on: (1) on-board transit survey methodologies and (2) other literature on how different survey modes influence response rates, completion rates, and how responses vary by socio-demographic factors.
- Identify transit route for surveying and obtain agency permission.
- Finalize contract for CATI survey with Social Sciences Research Center at CSU Fullerton.
- Interview at least 6 transit agency professionals and market research consultants who have conducted transit passenger surveys.
- Finalize choice of three survey modes for testing.
- Design survey questionnaire, including pre-testing the questionnaire with transit agency staff and riders.
- Design detailed survey implementation plans.
- Print survey questionnaires and program on-line survey.
- Recruit and train on-board surveyors.
- Collect, input, and clean survey data.
- Analyze data.
- Prepare draft report for submittal to MTI.
The study results will be actively transmitted to both transportation professionals and academics. Presentations will be made at the annual meetings of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP). The results will be of interest to other meetings on transit planning and survey methodologies, such as the National Transportation Applications Conference and the International Conference on Transport Survey Methods. The National Transit Institute (NTI) will be briefed on our findings to inform their course offerings for transit professionals. A seminar will be given on our project to the Travel Survey Interest Group (TSIG), a working group of public sector transportation planners in Chicago, Illinois. Finally, an article will be prepared for publication in a peer-reviewed journal such as the Journal of Public Transportation (preferred, as it is open-access) or Transportation Research A: Policy and Planning.
Potential Benefits of Project
The study results will be of primary interest to transit agencies, which are now required to survey their passengers at least once every five years, and the transportation and market research consultants who carry out these surveys on behalf of the transit agencies. The results of this research will directly inform the selection of survey mode by quantifying the cost and quality tradeoffs. Furthermore, this work will assist in the design of the chosen survey mode to ensure appropriate response rates and the inclusion of environmental justice populations.
This work will be very useful to transportation planners at municipal and regional agencies, such as metropolitan planning organizations, which undertake travel surveys for the purposes of informing their travel demand models. This work will provide tools for assisting these agencies to be critical consumers of surveys conducted by their partners as well as for informing their own travel survey methodologies. Since these agencies often provide the key funding for transit passenger surveys, it is essential that they are aware of survey mode tradeoffs.
More broadly, this work will expand the understanding of innovative surveying methods. This work will specifically assist in the design of mixed survey modes that incorporate intercept and follow up elements. In addition, this work will be of particular use to those interested in surveying populations, which have historically demonstrated low participation rates in such efforts, including minorities and LEP populations.