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Center Identification Number:  416-081

Project Title: Qualitative Methods for Transit Research

Principal Investigators: 

Francis Cleland, Senior Research Associate

Dennis Hinebaugh, Transit Program Director


Center for Urban Transportation Research
University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida

FDOT Project Manager: 

I. Project Objective

To conduct a large-sample qualitative study parallel to a well-designed existing quantitative study to examine the differences in conclusions that are arrived at.

II. Project Abstract

Most market research focuses on quantitative methods and pre-designed survey instruments to collect data on intentions to use transit and reasons for not using transit. Open-ended questions are typically limited to brief statements. Perhaps more importantly, the interviewers used in these projects are, for budget purposes, typically trained only in presenting pre-set questionnaires and not in methods of drawing out qualitative answers from respondents. There is a large body of anthropological literature, as well as a host of anecdotal evidence, that suggests that findings from large-sample qualitatively based studies, where respondents are permitted to discuss their experiences and respond in their own terms rather than to a pre-designed set of questions, may in fact arrive at different conclusions and different recommendations and action plans than quantitative studies. If so, and if these conclusions and recommendations are in fact substantially different, this would suggest that quantitative studies in certain areas (such as intentions of future actions and behavior) may have fundamental problems and may actually lead in questionable directions.

III. Task Descriptions

Task 1 Literature Review

The research team shall conduct a literature search related to the various aspects of transit customer surveys and transit customer polling. The team shall collect various types of survey instruments, survey reports and polls from as many sources as possible for review and inclusion in the literature review. The different techniques and methods listed in the literature and used by various transit agencies shall be summarized and analyzed to determine best practices. 

Task 2 Elements of On-Board Survey Data Collection 

CUTR shall outline, in detail, the various elements in the development and conduct of transit customer surveys. Elements shall include, but not be limited to, such items as determining data needs; sampling, accuracy and data variability; sample size determination; sample plan designs; creating and analyzing databases that contain information; and generating and interpreting results. 

In addition to the design and statistical accuracy issues which shall be addressed, there are a number of other equally important issues which shall be addressed as well. This shall include, but not be limited to, whether surveys shall be designed for hand-in, mail-back, seat drop or intercept distribution techniques. It shall address whether transit customers are "intercepted" at boarding locations and read a list of questions by a surveyor who records the customer's responses. Other operational issues which shall be addressed are: one, whether the survey shall be conducted inbound, outbound, or a combination of inbound-outbound; two, at what system level shall the surveys be conducted; three, shall the surveys be offered in multiple languages; and four, how shall the issue of sample bias be addressed by weighing factors. 

Task 3 Development of Draft Manual 

The information gathered as parts of Subtasks A and B shall be synthesized into a draft manual that shall be presented to the reader as a step-by-step "how to" guide for surveying transit customers. The manual shall be built around chapters that address each of the issues in the development, conduct and analysis of such surveys by individual transit systems. The draft manual shall be sent to the FDOT Project Manager and others for review and input. 

Task 4 Prepare Final Deliverable 

The research team shall modify the manual, taking into account the inputs received by the research team in Subtask 3-C, and produce the final manual for distribution. 

IV. Student Involvement

Graduate students will be used to assist in the literature review, preparation and analysis of the data collection, and prepare materials for the final report. 

V. Relationship to Other Research Projects

This is a relatively unique project in its intensive examination of the qualitative data collection process, and survey methodologies. It is anticipated that these projects will be closely linked to one another.

VI. Technology Transfer Activities

The results of this analysis will be provided to the FDOT through a series of technical memoranda and a final report, and a final presentation in Tallahassee. Copies of the final report will be provided to the Research Office, the State Public Transportation Administrator, the Manager of the Transit Office and the transit systems which participated in the analyses. Information will also be made available thought the CUTR website and through presentations at local and national conferences. 

VII. Potential Benefits of the Project

This project has the potential to greatly improve the validity and soundness of transit research in all areas, as it should provide guidance on the increased use of sophisticated quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis techniques in transit research. 

VIII. TRB Keywords

Qualitative research, research methodologies, transit, surveys, non-rider surveys, on-board surveys


National Center for Transit Research at the Center For Urban Transportation Research University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CUT100 Tampa, FL 33620-5375 (813) 974-3120 (813) 974-5168 Comments: