Transit onboard surveys are a valuable resource for transit planning and provide detailed inputs to regional transportation models. Most agencies administer system-wide surveys periodically to capture snapshots of transit riders in response to changes in transit service. However, transit onboard surveys are expensive to administer, especially when conducted systemwide. In the current environment, where transportation budgets are tight, it is critical to develop a phased prioritization approach to capture survey data on only route(s) of greatest relevance. The effort described in this paper establishes a new incremental framework for implementing onboard surveys based on a case study from Minneapolis.

In 2010, the Metropolitan Council in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region designed and implemented an innovative incremental approach to onboard survey data collection. As part of the approach, the study team aimed to maximize the use of onboard survey data collected from a previous system-wide survey effort in 2005. A three-step rule based on changes in service (supply), ridership (demand) and/or importance to corridors of interest was applied to determine whether or not the route would be surveyed in 2010.

This approach allowed the study team to allocate budget effectively to collect a large number of responses from a limited number of key routes. The responses from 2010 were then combined with surveys from 2005 for non-surveyed routes to develop a comprehensive database for use in planning. Other advantages such as (a) administering the survey over a very short duration of time and (b) assigning budget to improve data quality were also noticed during the survey process. This paper discusses each of these steps and findings at length.

The research provides a modular template for agencies looking to administer onboard surveys on some routes of their system and describes how the data collected may be merged with databases from previous surveys. Such modular efforts will incur lower costs, will be easy to mobilize and will enhance the information available for transit planning.