Planes, Trains, and Bicycles Too: Transportation Research Surveys

Transportation research surveys, planes, subways, bicycles -- public transportation

The world is changing, almost faster than we can keep up, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the road and in the sky. Electric vehicles, hybrid SUVs, and driverless cars have arrived, and the emergence of a sharing economy has seen the rise of on-demand transportation; airlines and airports are flooded with higher volume traffic than ever before, and bicycle usage (in some cities) seem to be on the rise. Survey research has been critical in furthering our understanding of the current state of transportation infrastructure, travelers’ attitudes and expectations, and the impact of far-reaching innovations in transportation technologies.

Transportation Survey Research

Transportation research encompasses a wide range of questions and methodologies. Broad travel pattern surveys examine who is going where, with whom, at what time, by which mode and route, and for what purpose, offering general insight into how transportation needs have contributed to the quality of life. [1] Other surveys focus on specific locations, on airports, bus metros or railway stations, and acquire data regarding travel time, passenger delays, vehicle occupancies, and customer satisfaction with available amenities. These insights are useful for understanding infrastructure needs and establishing priorities for the distribution of available funds.

Airport Surveys

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that 7.2 billion passengers will take to the skies in 2035, a near doubling of the 3.8 billion air travelers in 2016.[2] This growth in airline passengers puts added pressure on infrastructure that is already in need of significant investment. The Airports Council International-North America estimates a hefty $75.7 billion is required to support this growth in passenger and cargo activity, modernize existing facilities, and support aircraft innovation.[3]  While many public-use airports are eligible to receive funding through the FAA administered Airport Improvement Program, the allocation of grants is determined as a result of data-driven survey research.[4]

air transportation passenger statistics
1984 to 2016 data points provided by The World Bank –

A wide range of airport-specific surveys are currently in use and fulfill a variety of functions. The ACI-NA branded surveys gather a wide range of airport-specific insights, from evaluating travelers’ satisfaction with airport amenities to assessing infrastructure needs relative to the increasing number of incoming and outgoing visitors.[5] Airport IT Trends Surveys acquire data regarding security-related technologies, while economic impact studies generate critical insights that further our understanding of the role these transportation hubs play within the larger economy. [6]

Fun fact: Did you know? In April, for the first time, U.S. airlines carried more than 70 million passengers, 0.9 % more than the 69.7 million who traveled in March.[7]

Transit Survey

Public transport has been revolutionized in recent years with the emergence of on-demand rides via organizations like Uber, Lyft, and Curb, as well as rising enterprises seeking to cash in on the new sharing economy like Fasten, Get Me, Via, and zTrip.[8] Public transit agencies, however, are also moving with the times and seeking to make their services more convenient to customers who are used to hailing a car with a swipe of their phone. Dan Dawson, vice president of marketing at Cap Metro (Austin’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority), told Tomio Geron of the Wall Street Journal, “We can’t operate the same way we did fifty years ago and expect to be relevant. We have to use technology and new types of transit to both entice and provide the type of experience our customers want.” [9] Urban transit organizations nationwide frequently conduct quantitative and qualitative surveys to assess the needs and wants of their customer base.

Fun fact: Did you know? Agencies in Austin, Portland and other cities are working on a technology that will allow residents to pay once for seamless access to multiple types of public and private transportation, including bus, train, taxi, and rental bike?[10]

Bike Survey

A recent article in Business Insider referred to a major, but unexpected, transportation shift: bicycles.  Bike-sharing schemes like Citi Bike have recently become popular, as have bikes with electric-assist motors and additional carrying capacity. As urban centers get more crowded, and public transit has become increasingly expensive, more Americans are looking to bicycles to fulfill their travel and commuting needs.  Cities like New York, where car park spaces are prohibitively expensive and hard to find, where traffic might often come to a standstill, cyclists increasingly throng the streets. This bike boom can be seen across the country; Chicago’s bike-share system, Divvy, has more than 6,000 bikes and covers one hundred square miles; Los Angeles has turned one downtown street into a laboratory for bike safety experiments; Portland now requires protected bike lanes to be built on streets adjacent to new buildings.[11] Ford’s GoBike has recently launched in Oakland, Emeryville, and Berkeley.[12]

As cities begin to recognize the importance of biking to their transportation systems, they require survey data to make bike infrastructure investment decisions, improve the safety of bike routes, and assess community response to the influx of cyclists.

Fun fact: Did you know? It is estimated that over 450,000 cycling trips are made each day in New York City – triple the number taken 15 years ago.[13] Did you know that 7.2% of all Portland commuters travel by bike? This is the highest percentage of bike commuters for a large American city.[14]

Headway’s Expanding Role in the Transportation Research Sector

Headway Workforce Solutions has provided data collection support for numerous transportation studies, including the following: the 2016 Governor’s Highway Safety Program North Carolina Seatbelt Survey, an economic impact study of travelers at Washington D.C. area airports, the Survey-Based Evaluation of Bike-to-Work Day, and the New Jersey Transit Study, to name a few.

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