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Center Identification Number:  576-07


Project Title:  Standardize On-Board Surveys and Archive On-Board Survey Data


Principal Investigator:        


Xuehao Chu

Phone: 813-974-9831



Michael Baltes, Senior Research Associate
Phone: (813) 974-9843




Center for Urban Transportation Research

University of South Florida

Fax: (813) 974-5168


External Project Contact:     


Tara Bartee




I.  Project Objective


To explore approaches to standardizing on-board surveys and archiving the resulting data for the State and its transit agencies. This would be achieved through an interactive process among the project investigators, FDOT Public Transit Office, FDOT Policy Planning Office, and Florida’s transit agencies. The result would be a set of recommendations for the FDOT on how it may best standardize on-board surveys, encourage agencies to use the surveys, collect and archive data, draw information from the data for its policy planning purposes on public transit in Florida, and present information from the data for peer comparison purposes by individual transit agency.


II.  Project Abstract


On-board surveys are conducted locally by public transit agencies or by transportation planning agencies. These surveys are conducted to obtain inputs for regional transportation modeling purposes and to obtain inputs on customers for better service planning. While these surveys serve their primary local purposes, they can provide on-going information on transit markets at the state or national level for policy planning at little additional costs. As developed and administered right now, however, these surveys and their administration vary significantly. The potential value of these surveys for policy planning at state or national levels or for peer comparison purposes by individual agencies can only be fully captured if they could be standardized and statistically sound approaches developed to aggregate these surveys.

This project builds on a recently completed guidebook by CUTR on the design and conduct of on-board surveys for individual transit agencies - Surveying for Public Transit: a Design Manual for Customer On-Board Surveys, 2002. The current project shall go beyond this guidebook in four important ways, however. First, the current project shall look at the information needs of individual agencies for peer comparison purposes. Second, the current project shall look at the information needs of the State and FDOT for policy planning purposes. Third, the current project shall examine approaches to standardizing certain on-board survey questions. Fourth, the current project shall link on-board survey questions to specific information needs of the State and FDOT.

This project also builds on a joint effort between the U.S. Federal Transit Administration and the American Public Transportation Association. The objective of this effort is to develop the Transit Performance Monitoring System (TPMS). The TPMS is a structured method to measure how well transit at the national level is performing three policy roles: supporting basic mobility, transit oriented development/livable communities, and traffic congestion management. Since the TPMS narrowly focuses on these three specific policy roles, the information from it may not be particularly useful to Florida in general.


III.  Task Descriptions


Task 1:  Develop an Advisory Committee


This task shall form an Advisory Committee (AC), consisting of the project investigators, FDOT Project Manager, a representative of the FDOT Policy Planning Office, and two representatives of transit agencies in Florida. The AC shall serve as a forum for inputs and discussions. The project investigators shall consult with and get approval from the FDOT Project Manager on this task.  


Task 2:  Review Current Practices of On-Board Surveys


This task shall review the current practices of on-board surveys throughout Florida. This shall include local policy goals for public transit, survey frequency, survey timing, survey objectives, relationship between survey objectives and specific questions, survey length, sampling, etc. There may be value in learning any lessons in the national TPMS process. If and when the results from a new TCRP synthesis project on on-board surveys become available, they will also be reviewed (Dr. Polzin is on the review panel). The project investigators shall consult with the AC on this task.


Task 3:  Review Policy Functions of Public Transit in Florida


This task shall examine the roles that data on passenger miles can play in transit planning in order to improve services for transit users.  This task shall also examine the role of passenger miles data in the planning of passenger transportation other than local transit, such as airlines, intercity bus, and Amtrak.  Potential roles would include system monitoring, peer comparison, and service evaluation.  Data on passenger miles may be used directly as an aggregate value.  Data on passenger miles may be used as ratios with some other variables.  Potential ratios would include passenger miles per seat mile available (i.e., load factor), passenger miles per revenue vehicle mile (occupancy), public subsidy per passenger mile, injuries per passenger mile, etc.  Data on passenger miles may also be used in other ways with the rich data made available with new technologies.  Examples would include the percent of passenger miles under crowded conditions, the percent of passenger miles at certain level of service reliability, etc.  This task shall also examine some of the shortcomings of using passenger miles for transit planning. 


Two case studies will be used to document how agencies actually use passenger miles data and the benefits and shortcomings as perceived by these agencies.  It is likely that Jacksonville Transportation Authority would be one of the two case studies.  When feasible, a case study may be conducted on the use of passenger miles data by a passenger airline company.


Task 4:  Determine Measurements for Each Policy Function


This task shall determine measures for the policy functions and information needs identified in Task 3. At least one measure would be selected for each policy function or information need. For the function of providing transportation choices, for example, one measure would be the percent of transit riders who state that they would not have carried out the activities without transit. The project investigators shall consult with and shall get approval from the AC on this task.


Task 5:  Formulate Standard On-Board Survey Questions


This task shall formulate the draft standardized questions to be incorporated into future on-board transit surveys in Florida, and possibly elsewhere. These questions shall be worded so that the answers shall provide data for the measurements determined in Task 4. The project investigators shall consult with and shall get approval from the AC on this task.

Task 6. Pilot-Test Standard Questions

This task shall test the standard questions in a pilot on-board survey of HARTline (located in Hillsborough County) customers. Several versions of survey forms may be used for the pilot test. One version would be a short one and only include the standard questions. One version would be of medium length and would include additional questions that are frequently being asked on HARTline on-board surveys. The last version would be long and would include a typical HARTline on-board survey in addition to the standard questions. For the medium and long versions, the standard questions may be located at different points in the questionnaire. It is possible that many of the standard questions will be similar to the typical questions that transit agencies ask. This task shall deal with this issue as well.

Task 7. Explore Approaches to Incorporating Standard Questions

This task shall explore approaches to incorporating the proposed standard questions. This task shall take into account the current practices of transit agencies with on-board surveys. One approach, for example, would add the standardized questions into the on-board surveys that are done by individual agencies on their own schedule. Another would require a standardized on-board survey as part of the required Transit Development Plan. If the standardized questions are to be added to the existing questionnaire of agencies and the length of the questionnaire is a concern, some of the standardized questions may be used during one cycle but the others would be used for the next cycle. The project investigators shall consult with the AC on this task.

Task 8. Determine Statistical Methods for Data Aggregation

This task shall determine a statistical method for aggregating the on-board survey data from individual transit agencies. Simply merging these individual data sets would not give a correct picture at the state level. Different weights would need to be developed for responses from different agencies. These weights would reflect differences in sample size, sampling methods, and population served across agencies. The project investigators shall consult with the AC on this task.

Task 9. Explore Approaches to Continuous Data Management

This task shall explore approaches to managing the data from on-board surveys that incorporate the standardized questions on an on-going basis. This management would include the frequency at which the standardized questions may be incorporated, the data format in which the answers may be coded, the specific method with which the data may be sent to a central location, how the data may be archived at the central location, who may receive the analysis results, and finally who may manage this process. The entity that is conducting the annual Performance Evaluation of Florida Transit Systems would be a good choice for this management role, for example. Additional funds would be allocated to this entity for this role. The analysis results on the selected measurements related to policy functions could also be reported as part of the deliverables of the annual performance evaluation. The project investigators shall consult with the AC on this task.

Task 10. Prepare Recommendations and Final Report

This task shall develop recommendations on several subject areas of this project. These include proposed standard questions, how these questions should be incorporated into practical on-board surveys, how data from individual agencies should be aggregated, and how on-going data management should be done. This task shall also prepare a final report that shall document the research project and present the recommendations.

This project will have one deliverable. It will be the “Final Report”, in both draft and final forms. Once approved by the FDOT Project Manager and the Research Office, 12 copies of the “Final Report”, an electronic version, and an electronic version of the project summary will be submitted to the Research Office.


IV.  Project Schedule





Months from Notice to Proceed




















Advisory Committee




















Current Practices




















Policy Functions








































Question Formulation




















Pilot Testing




























































Data Management




















Final Report




















V.  Total Project Budget



% Time

Period Covered


Principal Investigator: Xuehao Chu


18 months


Senior Research Associate


18 months


Total Salaries




Graduate Students (1)


Undergraduate Students (0)


Total OPS




Total Fringe Benefits


Total Salaries, OPS & Fringe Benefits










Office Supplies (telephone, postage, etc.)






In-state Travel


   # of Trips: (5)


    Destination: (5 transit agencies to be selected)


# of persons traveling: 2 per trip


Duration:1 day


Total Expenses








Note: This budget does not reflect any federal participation. The project team will include faculty, students, and secretarial and other support staff who will work directly on the project and whose costs are reflected in the direct costs of the project as listed above. 


VI. Equipment


No equipment is envisioned to be purchased under this project.

VII. Implementation

This research project is intended to develop recommendations to the State and the transit industry on standardizing transit on-board surveys and achieving on-board survey data. As such, a separate implementation plan is not necessary.


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: