RES2020-19: Activity-based Household Travel Survey through Smartphone Apps in Tennessee

Activity-based household travel surveys (HTS) are one of the primary sources that provide detailed information of people’s travel activities. HTS data is foundational for many research fields including travel demand modeling, transportation mode choice analysis, and integrated transportation and land-use planning. Traditional methods for conducting HTS include physical mail, phone call, or GIS devices, which are often costly, time-consuming, labor intensive, less scalable, and difficult to achieve high quality and accuracy. With rapid advancement and market penetration of smartphone technologies, recent years have witnessed a fast-growing interest in conducting HTS through smartphone apps, which has a great potential to address many issues faced by traditional survey methods and to improve the overall quality of collected survey data. Echoing this research trend, the study team proposes to perform an activity-based HTS study in Tennessee through smartphone apps for both Android and iOS. This project aims to develop an effective, economical, scalable HTS solution and deliver a high-quality HTS database to TDOT. By conducting this project, the team wants to validate (or understand why if invalid) the following research hypotheses: (1) Smartphone apps offer an effective, economical, scalable, and secure approach to implementing long-lasting HTS. Although a few app-based HTS studies have been reported, the travel surveys conducted in those studies were arranged in one or multiple designated days; in other words, the entire timespans for all collected survey data in those studies are relatively short (in days). To our best knowledge, no app-based HTS has been implemented over months. However, long-lasting especially yearlong HTS would provide a very different dataset for travel and transportation research, which offers opportunities to find solutions and answers from a whole new perspective and a much wider horizon. In this project, the project team is going to implement a smartphone app-based HTS study that spans 9 months, during which any eligible volunteers in TN can participate by providing 7-day travel diaries through their smartphones. As a long-lasting HTS, this project brings not only research challenges in many aspects but also offers a high-reward opportunity to catalyze transportation and land-use research in TN. (2) App-based HTS can improve the quality and accuracy of collected survey data by leveraging sensor technologies and careful design and implementation. Previous app-based HTS studies suggest that smartphone apps improve data quality compared to traditional HTS methods. In this project, the project team seeks to quantitatively measure the quality and accuracy of collected travel data by comparing user-reported trip records with the travel information derived from smartphone sensors. This goal would not be well achieved without addressing the technical challenges in accurate location tracking and efficient power management for the app. (3) App-based HTS can provide fine-grained data records and rich data features to accelerate data-driven research on transportation and land-use modeling and planning at different timescales. By tracking and recording trips with fine-grained data records (e.g., data points generated at second level) and rich data features (e.g., timestamp, location, various sensor readings), a more in-depth, multi-facet understanding of people’s travel behavior can be gained and novel methods on transportation and land-use research can be developed and tested.