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Center Identification Number: 416-083

Project Title: Customer Surveying for Public Transit: A Design Manual

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  

Develop a "best practices" manual that presents a step-by-step "how to" guide for surveying customers at stops/stations and on board transit vehicles. It is envisioned that this handbook will help provide transit staff at various levels with a better understanding of the total customer survey process. It will describe the various components of the comprehensive transit customer survey process, from the survey-instrument development and data collection phase through to generating and interpreting results.

II. Project Abstract

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the need to use public transportation resources more efficiently. It has become important to evaluate all services, both current and planned. Transit customer surveys are an important tool in the evaluation of services. When a transit system decides to evaluate current or planned services via the use of a customer survey, there are a number of important issues that must be addressed to facilitate the collection process and ensure the quality of the collected data, its analysis, and the ensuing results. In many cases, however, improved data collection and evaluation procedures have not been supported by comprehensive and thorough surveying techniques. There are a large number of important issues which must be addressed in the development and conduct of such surveys including statistics and at which system level will data be gathered. Nevertheless, despite the time and costs associated with such efforts, the results from such surveys can be extremely useful to a transit system's planning functions. Therefore, it is in a system's best interest to make sure its survey process is appropriate and correct.

III. Task Description

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: