At what point do we begin to measure and manage the impact of travel information? Does better information about both traffic and transit influence traveler behavior with sizable route and mode shifts to merit monitoring? If so, how can we use the real-time information and incorporate it into network management practices?
Travelers are active participants in transportation network operations, said Jane Lappin, a senior social scientist, at Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center. Since 1997, a Volpe team surveyed over 16,000 travelers—most of them repeatedly. Volpe has analyzed over 30,000 surveys to learn how travelers use information and to better understand the impact of traveler information on their trip choices.
"Along the way, we've learned about and contributed to the market dynamics of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), how people use computers and mobile phones, and the role of information in transportation network performance," said Lappin during a recent Transportation Trajectories discussion. She shared a unique perspective that illustrates Volpe's work in this area and tells a story, over time, about how people travel on the nation's infrastructure.
Volpe has measured and evaluated traveler behavior in a number of metro areas, including Atlanta, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Diego, and Cobb County Georgia. Volpe performed this work in support of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and ITS Joint Program Office.
In 1997, many households shared a single cell phone, and used dial-up internet with limited access. Radio was the primary source of traveler information. Today, people own smart phones, computers, and tablets. As the quality of the technology improves, the surveys show there is an uptick in the use of mobile, hand-held internet devices as the preferred method for obtaining advanced traveler-information services.
"We've found that age, education, income, and location predict many of our choices and behaviors," said Lappin. But there have been changes through the years. In 2003, traveler-information users tended to be older, educated, higher-income male commuters. In 2012, the male/female ratio was roughly equal and access by employed individuals across all income levels was more evenly distributed. Quality, convenience, and reliable information related to travel times and route options has also influenced traveler choices.
Survey data and focus group findings show that travelers are less inclined to change travel mode in response to information, but more likely to change their route and departure times.
"Good traffic and transit information is a good public investment," said Lappin. It improves customer satisfaction, optimizes trip choices, and creates value for drivers and transit users by allowing them to manage their time more effectively.
To learn more, view the video highlights from this event.