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7 CHAPTER 2 Introduction to Market Research and ITS Data Understanding Customers: involve assigning ride checker staff to record boardings and Traditional Market Research alightings on sampled trips or trip segments. The analysis of Techniques the sample data would be limited to expanding the sample counts to infer the system's total ridership. Market researchers in the transit industry collect informa- Much more complex sets of questions reside at the other tion about their customers and the traveling public in a variety end of the market research spectrum. For example, the ques- of ways. The most commonly used techniques for recovering tion "How do riders on our system differ from non-riders?" information include intercept surveys of persons riding the sys- indicates that the target group is the general population of tem or at given locations, telephone and mail surveys of area travelers residing in the service area. The only way to recover populations, field observations (recording the delivery and the necessary information from this group is through a mail consumption of service), and focus groups. or telephone survey. The information that must be recovered One way of clarifying the distinctions among the various is determined by the desired scope and depth of understand- market research techniques is to delineate their key features ing of the distinctions between the two groups. Usually, a with respect to the population(s) targeted, the information threshold information set would cover frequency of use, age, that is recovered, and the questions analyzed from the in- sex, race, ethnicity, income, residence and work locations (if formation recovered. This is illustrated in the typology pre- employed), and vehicle ownership. This information set sented in Figure 2-1. Each technique is defined by a distinct would provide the necessary data for market segmentation target population, the specific kinds of information sought, analysis along traditional lines. More advanced approaches to and the research questions that are analyzed. In the practice market segmentation analysis, however, seek to further dis- of market research, it is probably more logical to rearrange tinguish riders and non-riders along attitude, opinion, and the columns of the typology to correspond with the research preference dimensions. Doing so requires recovery of scaled process. This process usually begins with a set of questions response information on attitudes, preferences, perceptions, (e.g., "Who is using our system?"). These questions then and opinions on a range of topics known to influence per- determine the identity of the subject population and the sons' travel choices. Incorporating this information into the information that will be sought from them or, rather, their analysis not only provides an opportunity to gain a greater sampled representatives. depth of understanding of the distinctions between riders Questions driving the research process can range from and non-riders, it also allows for further identification of sub- simple and direct to complex and multifaceted. At one end, groups within the two populations. for example, is the singular, direct question "How many peo- Identifying such subgroups holds great strategic importance ple are riding our system?" The "analysis" of this question in transit marketing programs. Among transit rider subgroups, requires recovering information about users of the system. for instance, one can usually identify a segment whose members The type of information needed is simple: counts of board- would rather not be using the system. Knowing why this is the ings and alightings from a representative sample of times/ case is the first step toward taking action to retaining riders who locations in the system. Among the range of approaches may be on the verge of leaving the system. Some members of listed in Figure 2-1, the technique that is best suited to this group may prefer another means of travel, but cannot recover customer count information at lowest cost or least presently afford to act on that preference. Should their incomes effort would be a field observation method. This would increase, there may be little that a marketing campaign can do
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8 Approach Target Group(s) Information Obtained Questions Analyzed Intercept Surveys: Riders Personal Demographics Who is using our system? · On-board Non-Riders Travel Characteristics How often do they ride? · On-street Fare Payment Used Where are riders coming from and where are Attitudes, Preferences, they going? Perceptions & Opinions Why are they traveling? How are they paying? What are their travel options & preferences? How satisfied are they with their experience on the system? What do they think about a possible change? Telephone & Mail Riders & Household Demographics How do riders differ from non-riders? Surveys Non-riders Travel Characteristics How are travel market segments defined? Attitudes, Preferences, What should we do to retain & attract riders? Perceptions & Opinions How would riders and/or non-riders respond to a service change? Field Observation Riders System Usage How many customers are being served? Agency Employees Service Delivery Is service reliable and on time? System Infrastructure Customer Service How easy is it for riders to use the system? Infrastructure Condition How are riders treated? What are conditions like on the system? Focus Groups Target Group Varies Perceptions, Opinions, How would riders and/or non-riders respond to by Topic Attitudes & Preferences new ways of doing things? What is really important to riders and/or non-riders? What should we do to make the system better? Figure 2-1. Typology of transit market research approaches. to sway their decision to leave. Other members, however, may population for their views on how questions should be defined be uncomfortable or dissatisfied with their experiences on the and interpreted. This can be motivated by an interest in gain- system, and getting to the bottom of their perceptions presents ing a deeper understanding of issues that are believed to be an opportunity to take corrective action that will mitigate prob- important to customers, or to explore customer reactions to lems they encounter or perceive. new ideas and issues. For example, regarding the former, sat- In contrast with rider segments, analysis of attitudes and isfaction surveys often reveal that service reliability and safety preferences among non-riders often identifies a subgroup and security are important issues in customers' minds. Yet, it whose members express very favorable opinions, perceptions, is also known that riders rarely consult schedules, and crime attitudes, and preferences toward transit as a travel option, but statistics suggest that the system is commonly safe and secure. have not followed through in their actual travel mode choices. Thus it is apparent that riders are expressing perceptions or For some, the underlying reason may be simple: they lack opinions that may not be reflected in measures such as sched- reasonable access to service. Analysis can then shift to the ule adherence or crime incidence. question of whether this group is sufficiently large and geo- Probing issues or questions through focus groups may graphically concentrated enough to be cost-effectively served. provide better definition of customer perceptions. For ex- For others, access may be adequate, but they lack a compelling ample, riders' concern with "reliability" may, upon deeper reason to change their travel choices. Analysis of their opin- consideration, be revealed to be grounded in the uncertainty ions, attitudes, and preferences may reveal the values that may they experience wondering when the next vehicle will be motivate a change in their choices. This group would be arriving. Alternatively, it may turn out to be a reaction to see- receptive to marketing initiatives promoting transit that res- ing platoons of vehicles on high frequency routes that are onate with these values. failing to maintain scheduled headways. Probing concerns These two subgroups represent what may be the most im- about "safety and security" may reveal that riders are un- portant latent markets in the transit industry. Their affiliation comfortable with unfamiliar places, or when riding with with transit lies very close to the choice point with other others who are different from them. In both examples, get- modes. To build a high ridership system it is necessary to ting to the bottom of perceptions can help to identify actions identify these groups and understand what they want. Their that would improve riders' satisfaction with service. Posting allegiance as riders is, at the same time, most readily gained schedules at stops or, in an ITS world, posting the next in a successful market development program and most easily vehicle's expected arrival in real time may be the best action lost when market researchers ignore them. that can be taken to improve riders' dissatisfaction with reli- In some instances, rather than initiating the market re- ability. Providing information at stops and adding various search process with a set of questions, analysts turn to a target treatments on vehicles or along riders' common access and
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9 egress paths may be what is needed to address concerns with purposes of their trips; where their trips begin and end; the safety and security. path of their travel through the system; how they pay for ser- Focus groups can provide valuable information in the con- vice; their dependence on transit to meet their travel needs; sideration of new practices or systems. In the area of fare pay- their preference for transit in relation to other modes; and ment, for example, transit providers can turn to focus groups their satisfaction with the services provided. On-street sur- to gain insight on customer perceptions and opinions of a veys recover information about how people travel to or from new fare option or a new system for fare payment. Consider- given locations; and their perceptions, preferences, and opin- able time and resource investments are at stake in each case, ions about location, program, or product-related attributes and focus group analysis can serve to reduce investment risk of service delivery. by gauging market acceptance. Information from O-D surveys provides a foundation for Some of the most elementary yet critical market research the design and delivery of transit service to a community. Un- questions are analyzed from information gathered through less more detailed or extensive travel information is being field observation techniques. Some of these questions focus sought, O-D surveys are designed to be fielded on transit on vehicle operators who, in delivering service, represent the vehicles. An example of an on-board O-D survey instrument principal contact between a transit agency and its customers. is shown in Figure 2-2. This instrument was fielded on Do they operate their vehicles with customers' safety and TriMet's bus, light rail, and streetcar system in 2005. The comfort in mind? Do they treat riders with respect and re- figure provides a useful illustration of several features of an spond to their questions? Do they announce stops? Do they on-board survey. First, it is designed to recover as much in- provide assistance when requested to riders with disabilities? formation as can be reasonably expected during the course of The information required to evaluate these questions is com- a typical rider's time on a vehicle. Second, despite the re- monly recovered by "mystery shoppers," who pose as riders sponse time limitation, the scope of information sought in and record observations on riders' experiences. The knowl- the instrument nevertheless extends beyond that needed to edge gained from evaluating this information can help to identify trip characteristics to include limited examples of identify areas needing greater emphasis in ongoing training most other types of information recovered in on-board sur- programs. veys. This additional information allows researchers not only Operators themselves and other field personnel have tra- to document travel patterns occurring on the system, but to ditionally served as sources of information on conditions in relate these patterns to personal characteristics. the system affecting riders' travel experiences. Operators are The typology of transit market research approaches pre- relied on to report problems with the state of repair and sented in this section does not include information that flows cleanliness of vehicles, stops and stations, potential hazards into the agency from customer-initiated contacts by tele- that riders and others may encounter, and situations that phone or the Web. Information from these contacts includes threaten rider safety or the safe operation of vehicles. More commendations, suggestions, and complaints, as well as informally, vehicle operators have also commonly reported travel queries recorded by trip planning software and real back their assessment of the adequacy of schedules, the lay- time vehicle arrival queries. Logs of the information obtained out of routes, and the location of stops. from customer-initiated contacts are usually maintained for Field observation approaches also include recovery of basic tracking and analysis. In particular, the incidence of com- service delivery data by staff "ride checkers." These data mendations and complaints is usually included among the include boarding, alighting, and load counts; vehicle running system performance indicators that are closely tracked by times; and schedule, headway, and timed transfer adherence. senior management. The scope and frequency of ride checker data recovery are What distinguishes customer-initiated information from defined, at a minimum, by the annual reporting requirements the information recovered by the approaches identified in of the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) National the market research typology is the ability of the latter to sup- Transit Database (NTD) program. Beyond NTD reporting, port inferences from a limited number of observations to a transit agencies commonly seek more extensive recovery of definable population. For surveys and field observation ap- service delivery data to support service planning, scheduling, proaches, the ability to make such inferences is ensured by and operations management needs. following statistical sampling plans. For focus groups, it is Intercept surveys, fielded either on-board vehicles or at ensured through careful screening of participants to repre- specific locations, are the workhorses of most transit market sent an intended audience. Alternatively, inferences are diffi- research programs. Much of what a transit agency under- cult, if not impossible to make from customer-initiated data. stands about its customers is learned through analysis of For example, it is hard to know what population is being rep- intercept survey data. On-board surveys can provide demo- resented by persons querying trip planning software. Thus, it graphic profiles of riders on the system; information on the is very unlikely that a trip table "inferred" from trip planning
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10 Figure 2-2. TriMet origin-destination survey instrument.