As of October 1, 2016, the SWUTC concluded its 28 years of operation and is no longer an active center of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The archived SWUTC website remains available here.


SWUTC Research Project Description

Travel Surveys: Moving from Tradition to Innovation

University:  Texas A&M University

Principal Investigator:
Stacey Bricka
Texas Transportation Institute
(512) 407-1123

Project Monitor:
Elaine Murakami
Federal Highway Administration / FTA Seattle Offices
915 Second Ave, Room 3142
Seattle, WA

Funding Source:  USDOT and State of Texas General Revenue Funds

Total Project Cost: $56,625

Project Number:  600451-00017

Date Started: 4/1/12

Estimated Completion Date:  3/31/13

Project Summary

Project Abstract:
In a time of economic uncertainty, agencies are in need of accurate and high quality data to inform travel demand models, policy questions, and livability initiatives. The main source of data for these efforts has traditionally been travel surveys. Those involved in travel surveys have only limited opportunities to learn from each other – whether they are designing a survey or recently completed a survey effort and are seeking ways to keep the data “fresh” until funding is approved for a new survey in 10 to 15 years. Without a peer network to discuss options, efforts are taking place in a vacuum.

The objective of this project is to provide a venue for those involved in travel surveys to assess what we as a field have learned in the past decade, come to consensus on where we are headed, identify how to stay current in travel survey advances and what research is needed, and perpetuate best practices. This particular research effort is composed of three interrelated components: assessing the state-of-the-practice and state-of-the-art, hosting a two-day symposium to give those involved in travel surveys the ability to meet and discuss practice and needs, and identifying a framework to facilitate timely communication about travel survey methods and practices.

Project Objectives:
The objectives of this study are (1) to identify the future of travel surveys in terms of methods, technology, and data collected, (2) develop a framework that would enable the testing and communication of best practice and lessons learned regarding various methods and technologies, and (3) generate research needs for some type of pooled-fund testing or research.

Task Descriptions:
Task 1: Finalizing the Details
The purpose of this task is to finalize the details surrounding the symposium and white papers. This includes:
*establishing an advisory panel
*finalizing the symposium structure and content
*finalizing the white paper topics
*identifying the dates and location for the symposium
*developing the marketing approach for symposium

Once the details have been finalized, a detailed schedule will be produced that track the activities associated with both the symposium and the white papers. This will also serve as a checklist to guide the remainder of the project.

Task 2: Composing the White Papers
The purpose of this task is to write between 3 and 5 white papers that will be distributed in advance of the symposium. The white papers will serve to ensure that participants have the same general background information and can come prepared to discuss and debate the future of travel surveys. The topics of the white papers will be finalized in consultation with the advisory panel. Possible topics include:

  • State of the practice for the various travel surveys, including issues and future options
  • General exploration of the future of travel surveys with regards to methods, technology, and addressing data gaps, without regard to the type of travel survey
  • Some combination of the two

As background for the white papers and symposium, a web survey of MPOs and DOTs regarding their travel survey efforts in the past decade and plans for the next decade will be conducted. The focus will include not only the type of survey, budget, and lessons learned, but more importantly, where they obtained the details necessary to design and conduct their survey and what information is essential to others that will be conducting travel surveys in the future. The survey will be programmed in LimeSurvey, and administered using standard web survey protocols. The questions will focus on what, not whom, and only agency perspective on publicly available details will be sought.

In addition to the survey, the white papers will draw from literature, recent conferences (such as the 2012 Innovations in Travel Modeling and the 2012 American Association of Public Opinion Researchers conference) and internet searches. These searches will be performed at the broadest levels, following accepted protocol. We anticipate considering survey research literature in general, as well as futuristic technology-related papers, in addition to transportation specific sources. Finally, as needed, industry interviews will be conducted to obtain publicly available information that is generally known but not documented in a formal report or paper.

A graduate student will be involved in summarizing the results of the survey and conducting the literature review in support of the white papers. Depending on the actual topics selected, to the extent possible, the graduate student will assist in writing at least one white paper.

Task 3: Designing and Conducting the Symposium
The purpose of this task is to design and conduct the symposium. The work can be broadly divided into technical, logistical, and sponsorship aspects. Details regarding anticipated tasks are noted below. The detailed schedule developed in Task 1 will include key deadlines to ensure that the symposium comes together to achieve the project’s objectives.

3A: Technical
Technically, the program will be developed following best practices in symposium (including the most recent MBUF symposium sponsored by TTI as well as TRB 2-day workshops where the objective is to achieve consensus or develop a research agenda). It is anticipated that this symposium will be 1 ½ to 2 days in length, held at a convenient location in the Fall of 2012 (Austin TX or Washington DC are two potential locations). Researchers will draft the program, and the advisory panel will vet it, to ensure a robust and actionable schedule.

In addition to the program details, the selection of a key note speaker will be made early in the task as well. Depending on the focus of the program (on specific surveys or more futuristic), possible key note speakers could include a futurist such as Garry Golden or a methodologist such as Peter Stopher. Sponsorship will be sought to cover the travel costs and a modest stipend for the key note speaker.

Finally, the technical development of the program also includes the identification of moderators, recorders, and other roles to ensure smooth management of the symposium. To the extent possible, advisory panel members and TTI researchers will assume responsibility for those positions.  It is anticipated that to ensure participation among key travel survey practitioners and data consumers, some registrations may be waived and some travel may need to be covered. The budget assumes travel coverage for 3 researchers.

After the symposium, a graduate student will assist researchers in documenting the results in a conference proceeding.  These results will be posted to the conference web site and widely distributed.

3B: Logistical
Logistically, TTI’s Event Management and Planning (EMP) staff will assist researchers in the development of a detailed checklist and schedule for the symposium activities. Some of the anticipated tasks include:

  • Development of a symposium budget
  • Development of a marketing list
  • Creation and distribution of a “save the date” card
  • Development and printing of a conference logo and program
  • Development of a website for the symposium registration and communication
  • Identification and negotiation of meeting space and hotel room block
  • Management of on-site logistical details, such as food and snacks, AV, and registration

Details will be managed with the goal of keeping registration costs as low as possible. EMP’s budget will be funded out of the registration fee.

TTI researchers will manage conference logistics, including the following tasks:

  • Develop timeline –registration deadline, room block deadline, program printing  as well as technical timeline – duration of sessions, breaks, lunches, and receptions
  • Work with EMP to coordinate program and website layout and manage upkeep
  • Work with moderators to prepare for sessions – set up pre-symposium meetings between moderators and speakers
  • Work with speakers to obtain presentations and bios
  • Monitoring registration numbers and hotel numbers to ensure room block is covered
  • Ensure moderators and speakers register for the symposium and book a hotel room
  • Work with sponsor organizations
  • Manage overall symposium budget
  • Ensure the hotel set-up is correct for each session based on number of speakers and A/V needs
  • Communicate fight/hotel/transportation information and tourist activities
  • Market conference
  • Prepare registration packets
  • Help with on-site registration

3C: Sponsorship
The following are planned sponsorship activities to be conducted as part of this task:

  • The Transportation Research Board is anticipated to be an in-kind sponsor, assisting with marketing the symposium.
  • The Federal Highway Administration’s Travel Model Improvement Program is anticipated to contribute financially to the symposium. The amount and for what is to be determined.
  • A vendor program will be drafted to provide an opportunity for consulting firms to contribute. This is anticipated to contribute to the cost of food, the keynote speaker, and other supporting activities.

Task 4: Documenting the Results
The purpose of this task is to prepare the required final technical report, which will conform to SWUTC requirements. In addition, the proceedings from the symposium will be documented and disseminated among attendees and other interested parties.

Researchers will prepare a presentation to be used for the proposed webinar as well as conference presentations.  In addition, at least one publication will be drafted for submission to an appropriate journal.

The graduate student will assist in the development of the deliverables, and contribute to the journal article. 

Implementation of Research Outcomes:
The objective of this effort was to provide a venue for those involved in travel surveys to assess what we, as a field, have learned in the past decade, come to consensus on where we are headed, identify how to stay current in travel survey advances and what research is needed, and perpetuate best practices.

The SWUTC Travel Survey Symposium was held in Dallas on November 8 and 9.  This event was attended by more than 70 travel survey professionals from across the United States, from Florida to Alaska, with one attendee from the City of Calgary (Canada) as well, representing an almost equal mix of agency, consultant, and academic researchers.  The symposium started with a poster session, featuring research from 22 related efforts.  This was followed by an opening session that included a Texas welcome from Mr. Michael Morris, Executive Director of North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and a key note speech from Dr. Kermit Wies of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.  Attendees were encouraged to think outside the box and consider all users of travel survey data as their customers.

The symposium was divided into two parts.  The discussion groups on Thursday focused on identifying lessons learned and opportunities to advance methods and sampling approaches, as well as considering all uses of the survey data.  The day ended with attendees presenting their versions of the “travel survey of the future” – incorporating new technologies, known and on the horizon.  Friday, the focus of the symposium discussion turned to identifying what can be implemented now and establishing a research agenda to move us toward the newly identified survey designs.

Products developed by this effort:

Web Site:

PresentationThe Future of Travel Surveys, C. Simek and S. Bricka, presented at the 2014 TRB Planning Applications Conference.  May 2014, Columbus Ohio.

Informal Presentations:  Travel Symposium Results, C. Simek and S. Bricka, presented to the following committee meetings of the TRB 2013 Annual Meeting.  ABJ40 Travel Survey Methods, ABJ40(1) Household Travel Survey Subcommittee of Travel Survey Methods; ADB40 Travel Demand Forecasting; and ABJ30 Urban Data and Information Systems.

Future Presentation Submitted:  U.S. Household Travel Surveys:  Trials, Tribulations, and the Future, S. Bricka and E. Murakami, submitted to the 10th International Conference on Transport Survey Methods, November 2014, Leura, New South Wales, Australia.

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation:
The symposium impacted the travel survey community in different ways.

  1. This was the first event since 1995 to bring the travel survey community together for focused discussions on where the practice was and what was needed to stay relevant for the future.
  2. The first part of the symposium focused on lessons learned.  This provided some context and details to help agencies as they move forward with designing and funding their future surveys, to know what to avoid or to not replicate.
  3. The next part of the symposium focused on surveys of the future.  This discussion identified several research needs for the community.
  4. The final part of the symposium focused on moving the discussions into practice.  From practical advice on what should be included in an RFP to a prioritization of research needs, the attendees identified several action items to move forward with.

The symposium findings and topics discussed were immediately transferable to governmental agencies seeking to fund travel surveys in their regions/states.  In addition, private sector firms who conduct these types of surveys have also adjusted their practices based on the discussions.  Results from this effort have already assisted three regional Metropolitan Planning Agencies in the development of new travel surveys (Olympia, WA, Quad Cities, IL, and South Jersey).  In all three cases, the results of the symposium were used to ensure that the new surveys being designed incorporate symposium recommendations.

In summary, agencies across the U.S. conduct travel surveys to support long range transportation planning efforts and understand travel behavior for policy initiatives.  The symposium was successful in identifying how and where the survey methods could be improved, therefore improving the survey experience for the respondents.  An improved survey experience for respondents leads to improved response rates, which leads to reduced costs for the agencies funding these studies. 

Web Links:

Final Report