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Household Travel Surveys: Informing Transportation Planners on Future Needs

September 9, 2022

Westat’s research experts in household travel and travel behavior have conducted travel surveys for decades for federal, state, and local government agencies, providing innovative approaches to recruiting household respondents; maintaining their engagement over time; and collecting, analyzing, and reporting the resulting data. Household travel surveys are integral tools for planning a region’s future transportation infrastructure and are critical for planners and engineers to assess current needs, forecast future needs, and build infrastructure to meet those needs. These surveys focus on people’s travel behaviors, including exact times, reasons, and means of travel—whether driving, ridesharing, using public transportation, or other. They also answer questions on how people are traveling (regardless of mode), their demographic characteristics, and travel patterns. Ultimately, the knowledge gleaned from the surveys is intended to facilitate stakeholders in developing plans for transportation improvements, new housing, and job growth.

Our travel survey experts use a multimodal data collection plan involving its customized smartphone app and web-based survey with phone support to accommodate small- to large-scale surveys ranging in complexity, says Jeremy Wilhelm, M.C.R.P., a Westat Senior Research Associate: “Our specially designed system integrates data from our smartphone app, telephone survey, and web survey, eliminating the need to harmonize the data across platforms and providing the highest quality data possible. We’ve also developed tools to efficiently assess, clean, and visualize the data so clients can conduct analysis at their convenience.”

Because these surveys require each household member to document when and where they travel, each trip’s purpose, stop locations, arrival and departure times, and travel modes within a 24-hour period, recruiting and retaining respondents can be challenging, notes Jesse Casas, a Westat Principal Research Associate.

Jeremy Wilhelm
Jesse Casas

“In today’s environment, people are reluctant to participate for various reasons: They are busy, some do not have favorable views of government surveys, others are fearful of a data breach or believe their participation doesn’t matter,” Mr. Casas says. “We have been able to ease respondents’ concerns by explaining that the data are anonymized and that our smartphone app, with its mapped routes and GPS technologies, is an efficient way to report their trips and allows required information to be securely and automatically transmitted. In this way, we’ve been able to maximize response rates.”

Westat’s expertise in administering household travel surveys is unique on multiple levels, says Mr. Wilhelm: “We deliver quality data because of our extensive experience, innovative technology, and a talented tight-knit team of professionals. Our experts in survey methodology and statistics, human factors, instrumentation engineering, technology assessment, and geospatial analysis have worked together for nearly 2 decades, which speaks to our team cohesiveness and consistency. Plus, we can rapidly pivot to respond to altered or added tasks and leverage other subject matter experts from across the company.”

While the pandemic caused a halt in travel surveys, requests to examine what may be the new normal in travel behavior are on the upswing, says Mr. Casas: “Clients want to know about new and emerging forms of mobility, such as electric bikes, scooters, and cars and the use of Lyft and Uber. And they continue to look for ways to reduce congestion and pollution, conserve fuel, and improve their region’s safety and productivity.”

Westat is now in the design phase of a Colorado statewide household travel survey that will involve 20,000 households, and it is wrapping up a 3-region household travel survey in Texas. It is also launching a survey among 4,800 households in the Piedmont-Triad region of North Carolina.

It’s clear that across the country, planners and policymakers need accurate, responsive, and current data to address changing transportation demands. Westat’s deep bench of expertise in household travel surveys and the high-quality reliable data they produce, squarely meet these planning and forecasting challenges. 

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