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Household Travel Surveys At A Glance

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September 2013

Overview of Surveys

Motivating factors

Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and state departments of transportation (DOTs) use data collected from household travel surveys (HTS) to better understand residents' travel patterns and use the results to update and/or calibrate their travel demand models. Travel behavior trends are examined for forecasting vehicle miles traveled (VMT), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and new public transit investments.


Comprehensive one- and two-day travel diaries collect information about the household, its members, and all the trips completed on a pre-assigned travel date. A pilot study is typically used to test the methods and materials, so that the full study benefits from improvements and refinements (e.g., modifications to question wording or response rate assumptions). Planning and public outreach for the HTS is critical because of declining response rates. Outreach methods increasingly include social media posts, videos, project websites, and targeted materials or contacts with certain hard-to-reach populations in the study region.

Methods and Datasets

HTS typically use the following methods:

The survey instruments typically collect the following information:

Example Survey Interface with GPS Trip Data

The image to the right is a screen capture of an example web-based survey instrument. This particular prompt asks the respondent to provide details corresponding to the trip captured by GPS data.

Title: Example Survey Interface with GPS Trip Data - Description: The image is a screen capture of an example web-based survey instrument. This particular prompt asks the respondent to provide details corresponding to their trip captured by GPS data along with a map that plots the intermediate stop locations.

GPS Data

For the last decade, about 20 of the larger agencies have included a 5% or 10% GPS sub-sample as part of their region's HTS. The primary purpose of the GPS sub-sample has been to generate trip rate correction factors for the other sampled households and account for trip under-reporting often found in diary-based HTS.

The GPS approach is typically conducted as follows:

GPS devices and each household member is asked to use the device for a pre-defined number of days

Most recently, tests on using 100% GPS-only diaries have been conducted in Ohio, and smartphones with embedded GPS and accelerometers are now being tested.

Household Travel Survey References

The following list of references can be used to learn more about the topic of HTS: methods, developments/technologies, trends, and data uses.

Recent publications on survey methods:

Recently Complete Projects 2011-present

Year Agency/Project State Sample Size GPS Sample Model Type
2011 Genesee Transportation Council (GTC) NY 3,671 NO Trip
2011 Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) GA 10,278 YES Trip/Activity
2011 Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) WI 16,500 NO Trip
2011 New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) NY 18,966 YES Trip
2011 Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) DC 4,800 NO Activity
2012 Twin Cities Metropolitan Council MN 10,362 NO Trip
2012 Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) and Utah DOT UT 9,159 NO Trip
2012 Metrolina Regional Household Travel Survey NC 4,231 NO Activity
2012 Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization TN 6,500 YES Activity
2013 California Department of Transportation (CA DOT) CA 42,000 YES Activity
Year Agency/Project State Sample Size GPS Sample Notes
2012 Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) PA 10,000 YES Data collection began Fall '12
2013 Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC) WS 2,500 NO Data collection Fall '13
2013 Fairbanks Metropolitan Area Transportation System (FMATS) AK TBD TBD Data collection Fall '13
2013 Memphis Urban Area MPO TN TBD TBD Data collection Fall '13

Updated: 10/20/2015
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