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Survey Design

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In order to design and implement an effective survey, MassDOT worked closely with a contractor throughout the project. Conducting large-scale household travel surveys such as the MTS is a specialized effort that only a small number of firms nationwide are capable of performing well. MassDOT went through an extensive and rigorous selection process and ultimately chose NuStats, located in Austin, Texas. NuStats is well-qualified and has substantial experience and a proven history of conducting these types of surveys for other states and large metropolitan areas all across the country over the past 25 years.

Between June 2010 and November 2011, over 25,000 households throughout Massachusetts were randomly chosen and contacted, which involved a massive amount of coordination, communication, and analysis. In the selection process and in the survey implementation, NuStats demonstrated efficiencies with their offices and call centers that – compared to at least partially-based Massachusetts companies – resulted in a high quality product and significant cost savings to MassDOT. In short, MassDOT was not able to find a Massachusetts-based firm and/or call center combination that could offer the same. MassDOT determined that the benefits of using this out-of-state firm outweighed any drawbacks for this type of complex project.

Each of the 15,000 participating households was asked to fill out a travel diary (for each person over 14), for a single, pre-assigned day. The diaries covered a variety of daily activities and resulting travel patterns. For this survey, “travel” meant going from one place to another for any reason. “Activities” were the general categories of things done – and the reason for traveling. Example activities include going to work, shopping, visiting friends, attending an event, or even just going for a walk in the neighborhood. Important factors include how people get to the activities (mode of travel), where the trips are coming from and going to, to what extent the trips are linked together, at what time of day trips are made, etc.

A smaller set of households (over 600 of the 15,000) also participated in using global positioning system (GPS) devices during their travel day. In addition to providing valuable detailed place information and a check against the diaries, the GPS devices also helped to gauge the amount of trip underreporting (a common issue with travel surveys).

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