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6 TABLE 3 FREQUENCY OF CONDUCTING ON-BOARD AND INTERCEPT SURVEYS Size of Transit Agency* Very All Large Large Medium Small Time Period (51) (8) (12) (16) (15) Several times a year 37% 88% 33% 44% 7% About once a year 22% 13% 33% 13% 27% About once every 2 years 4% 0% 0% 0% 13% About once every 3 years 20% 0% 17% 31% 20% About once every 4 years 4% 0% 8% 0% 7% In excess of every 4 years 14% 0% 8% 13% 27% Total 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% *See Table 1 for agency size definitions. USING ON-BOARD/INTERCEPT INSTEAD resentative sample of the desired population (see chapter OF A DIFFERENT SURVEY METHOD three for a discussion of sampling frames). All transit users can be found within the system, and on-board and intercept In choosing whether to use on-board/intercept or a different surveys can achieve good participation levels from prospec- methodology, primary factors include the ability of the tive respondents (see chapter five). methodology to reach the targeted population, quality of responses to questions, response rates, schedule, costs, and Not surprisingly, the ability to reach and isolate the length and complexity of the survey. desired population, and the ability to obtain a representative sample of that population, are two primary reasons that tran- The central characteristic of on-board and intercept sit agencies undertake on-board and intercept surveys instead surveys is the direct access they provide to bus, subway, light of using telephone, web-based, mail, or other methodologies. rail, and commuter rail riders. On-board and intercept sur- Three-quarters of responding transit agencies indicated that veys can be conducted cost-effectively, because survey "ability to target specific routes, customer segments, etc." workers can readily reach a large number of bus and rail and "ability to obtain a representative sample" are among riders. By contrast, random digit dial telephone surveys are their primary reasons for using on-board and intercept survey a costly way to reach transit users when the incidence of tran- methods (Table 4). sit users among the general population is low. Direct access to customers also means that on-board and intercept surveys can achieve excellent coverage of the targeted population. Surveys can be conducted of thin slices TABLE 4 REASONS TO USE AN ON-BOARD OR INTERCEPT of the universe of users, such as riders on particular lines or METHODOLOGY INSTEAD OF A DIFFERENT SURVEY those using transit in particular locations or specific times of METHODOLOGY (check top 1 to 5 reasons) the day. Thus, King County Metro (Seattle, Washington) Reason Percentage surveyed only those riders in the downtown Ride Free Area. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) conducted one survey Ability to target specific routes, customer 77 segments, etc. of riders on all bus and rail routes on the West Side and Ability to obtain a representative sample of 73 another survey of riders on the Douglas Line segment of the the desired population Blue Line. Better information (accuracy, reliability, 63 detail) from respondents Conversely, on-board and intercept surveys can achieve Ability to survey during the immediate 60 excellent coverage and a representative cross section of experience of the service all transit users served by an agency. This flexibility is Higher response rate 52 another prime advantage of on-board/intercept methods. Lower cost 46 Transit agencies as large as the Los Angeles County Met- Faster turnaround 44 ropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and as small Availability of staff 10 as city of Lodi (California) have conducted systemwide Availability of consultant 8 on-board surveys. Other 2 Whether systemwide, areawide, or route-specific, well- Do not conduct on-board/intercept surveys 2 designed on-board and intercept surveys can generate a rep- Total number responding, 52.
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7 Two other advantages of on-board and intercept surveys, transit users would drive up the cost of telephone or mail sur- cited by more than 60% of the transit agencies surveyed, veys. It should be noted that on-board and intercept surveys are "ability to survey during the immediate experience of can also be costly, particularly when surveying on low-rider- the service" and "better information (accuracy, reliability, ship routes or stations, or when the response rate is low. detail) from respondents" (Table 4). Both of these advan- tages are because on-board and intercept surveys are con- Just as on-board and intercept surveys offer many advan- ducted as customers use the bus and rail services, lending tages, they also have distinct limitations that make them immediacy to the information or opinions being provided. inappropriate in some situations. A primary reason to use This immediacy facilitates accurate responses so that telephone surveys is to reach non-users, those who cannot be respondents need not rely on recall of past experiences or reached on board or at transit stations or centers. Of transit feelings, as when surveyed later by phone, mail, or other agencies surveyed, 63% cited this as a reason for using other methods. methodologies (Table 5). Transit agencies in Ann Arbor (Michigan), Seattle, Orlando (Florida), Dallas (Texas), Immediacy is also important when surveying a particular Charlotte (North Carolina), Cleveland (Ohio), Fort Worth line or area. Respondents can readily focus on West Side (Texas), suburban Chicago, and Broward County (Florida), service, or service on a particular route, because they are use telephone surveys to reach non-users and on-board and currently traveling in this area or on this route. intercept surveys to reach users. The aspect of immediacy can also be put to innovative Surveys that are too lengthy and/or complex owing to uses. For example, MTA New York City Transit conducted skips, branching, or other complexities to be completed on a survey on selected bus routes to gauge reaction to a new bus board or in an intercept environment, also call for a differ- lighting system then under consideration. Several buses on ent methodology. Approximately 4 in 10 agencies cited the selected routes were outfitted with the new lighting sys- this as a major reason for using telephone, mail, or other tem. Respondents experienced actual lighting conditions as survey methods. they completed the on-board questionnaire. Furthermore, by conducting the survey on both test buses and buses with It should be noted that on-board and intercept methodologies regular lighting systems, the results provided a direct are often used in conjunction with other survey methods. Inter- comparison of customer ratings for lighting attributes cept interviews, for example, are often used to gather names and (brightness, glare, ability to see street signs, etc.) for new and telephone numbers for telephone interviewing to be conducted regular lighting systems. By conducting the survey on the later. Pierce Transit's (Lakewood, Washington) 2004 Fixed- same routes and at the same time of day, the survey method- Route Customer Satisfaction Survey adopted this approach. ology controlled for exterior lighting conditions and trip and The combination of intercepts and telephone interviews is very rider characteristics. suitable where the incidence of transit riders is too low to make Three other frequent advantages to on-board and inter- cept surveys, cited by approximately one-half of transit TABLE 5 agencies, are higher response rates, faster turnaround time, REASONS TO USE A DIFFERENT SURVEY METHODOLOGY and lower costs. RATHER THAN AN ON-BOARD OR INTERCEPT SURVEY (check top 1 to 5 reasons) Response rates for on-board and intercept surveys, Reason Percentage although varying dramatically, generally range from 33% to Need to include non-users in study 63 67% (see chapter five). By contrast, response rates are typi- Ability to obtain a representative sample of 54 cally below 20% for mail surveys and below 40% for tele- the desired population phone surveys, based on interviews with transit agency staff. Length and/or complexity of survey 42 (Note that the relevant comparison for telephone surveys is Ability to target specific routes, customer 25 interviews divided by residential households called, includ- segments, etc. ing calls resulting in no answer, a busy signal, answering Lower cost 23 machine, etc., and not simply the refusal rate once a poten- Faster turnaround 21 tial respondent is on the phone.) Availability of consultant 19 Better information (accuracy, reliability, detail) 15 Faster turnaround time reflects agencies' ability to from respondents quickly draft and field on-board and intercept surveys, par- Higher response rate 8 ticularly route-specific and area-specific surveys conducted Availability of staff 4 for service planning purposes. Other 2 As with response rates, costs vary widely. On-board and Do not conduct other types of surveys 13 intercept surveys offer cost savings where a low incidence of Total number responding, 52.