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How Household Travel Surveys could be a lot cheaper, faster and more reliable

How Household Travel Surveys could be a lot cheaper, faster and more reliable

The global consultancy firm, Mott MacDonald, and behaviour change experts, BetterPoints, are co-designing digital tools to revolutionise household travel information-gathering.

Mott MacDonald was commissioned by the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office to deliver part of its Global Future Cities South East Asia Programme. They asked BetterPoints to co-design a new tool to gather travel data in the Malaysian cities of Iskandar and Melaka, and to test ideas for making Household Travel Surveys cheaper and more effective with digital technology.

BetterPoints built the white-labelled PerjalananKu app (roughly translated, ‘PerjalananKu means ‘My Journey’ in Malay), designed and regionalised specifically for this new market. The app tracked users’ journeys and transport modes to get a clearer picture of transport behaviour in the region.

At the same time, we tested ways of improving data-gathering that is traditionally accomplished with Household Travel Surveys.

Governments use Household Travel Surveys to monitor their transport infrastructures, but the approach is time-consuming and incredibly expensive. Researchers have to travel to houses and literally knock on the doors: if the named leader of the household isn’t in, they have to do the same thing another day. Even then, they may not get a response. And when enough survey responses are finally gathered, the data has to be sifted through and collated before it can be analysed. Plus, all you’re getting is self-reported information, which can be unreliable.

Now, imagine if you could reach the same sample size through people’s phones instead of knocking on their doors. And can you also imagine if the same app could track participants’ journeys, calculate the offset amount of CO2 emissions and motivate people to change the way they travel?

For a start, your Household Travel Surveys would run much more quickly and at a fraction of the cost. But you would also have direct, automated engagement with network users, real-time data on network use, and a cohort of citizens incentivised to choose more active and sustainable modes of transport.

To this end, Mott Macdonald and BetterPoints tested solutions for delivering sophisticated household travel surveys through a smartphone app. Such a tool would also enable researchers to remind people to complete the surveys and to offer incentives for doing so – and without ever having to knock on a door. Survey results would be logged in the system immediately, removing any need to collate them.

We also tested different approaches to encouraging participants to link up with other household members, for a more complete picture of household travel habits, and looked at ways of ensuring we could reach the same sample size as more traditional methods.

Ultimately, we hope to combine household travel surveys, crowdsourced data, and data on mode-shift from private vehicle to more sustainable and active means of travel – and to present this for visualisation and modelling.

Such a solution would enable cities to communicate directly with participants and to offer incentives to get involved, such as rewards and gamification – and to gather household travel insights much more quickly, cheaply and reliably.

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