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Understanding People's Travel Behavior with Better Surveys

Commute is an integral part of city life. In cities like Bengaluru, commute can be a nightmare, thanks to the traffic! But despite this, there is hope. Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science have proposed a novel way to collect travel information of daily commuters. This method can help gather quality data on activity and travel behavior analysis which in turn can help policy makers design better transport models.

Prof. Ashish Verma and his student M. Manoj from the Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Science have designed this survey mechanism for cities of a developing country, like namma Bengaluru.

An “activity-travel survey” is a survey aimed at obtaining information about activity patterns and associated trips made by people. It basically comes from the philosophy that people do not travel just for the sake of traveling but to perform an activity or fulfil a purpose. It includes, where and what activities are performed, the number of trips in a day, their destinations, their modes of transport, their fellow-travelers, the time and duration of trips and the pattern of trips, route choices and the reasons for each trip. Large cities around the world conduct such periodic surveys to model transportation planning, forecast traffic, assess land use patterns and design better policies. Demographic details to assess the socio-economic conditions of the participants are also collected.

It is unfortunate that such surveys linking activity and travel behavior are rarely conducted in Indian cities. “Our survey design combines the features from traditional travel diary formats used in Indian cities and from advanced designs applied in the cities of developed countries”, says Verma. Their work focuses on designing one such activity-travel survey for Indian cities with Bengaluru as a case study.

“Activity-travel survey emphasizes on activity participation of individuals. It captures activities performed when the participant is at home or out. In case of being out of home, travel details are collected”, explains Verma. The data thus collected are of immense value. “Such surveys can provide necessary information relevant to the analysis of policies. Studies of this type help a commuter record his activities in-home and out-of-home. Based on such information, policy makers can design policies beneficial to a commuter and the environment”, he adds.

In this study, the team evaluated alternative diary formats and survey administration techniques. They considered the population in the Bangalore Metropolitan Region. As a part of the study, they aimed to collect data about commuting patterns of the survey participants with two diary formats. First was a day-planner format that records how an individual uses time during a day. The second was a combination of a day-planner and a traditional trip-based planner. After evaluating both the formats, they concluded that the latter is better suited for capturing data in the context of cities like Bengaluru. It recorded fewer number of missing travel stages and trips and it was easier to fill the travel details. The survey participants responded better when interviewed face-to-face, thus resulting in higher response rate and lower recording errors.

In most travel surveys, traditionally, trip-based formats are used. They seem to be inferior compared to activity-based surveys. “The advantage of a survey focused on activities rather than just the trips is that the former can record short trips on foot that are usually underreported or unreported in traditional trip-based survey. These trips are relevant to gauge the performance of policies promoting walking", claims Prof. Verma. Individuals are activity oriented and not focused on just the trips they make. Any change in land use and/or transport systems affects an individual's activity and travel behavior. "Hence, it is important to understand the impact of policies on activity participation behavior rather than focusing on travel behavior alone”, he signs off.


Contact Information:

Ashish Verma

Assistant Professor

Transportation Engineering

Dept. of Civil Engineering

Indian Institute of Science (IISc)

Bangalore-560012, Karnataka, India

Phone: +91-80-2293 2329/ 2360 9223/ 2293 2939 (O),



Author Information:

Manoj. M. is a recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Prof. Ashish Verma was his thesis advisor. This research work was published in the journal Current Science, Vol. 109, titled “Design and administration of activity-travel diaries: a case study from Bengaluru city in India”.