The National Academies

TCRP B-55 [Anticipated]

Guidelines for Surveying Hard-to-Reach Populations for Small, Medium, and Large Transportation Agencies

  Project Data
Funds: 100000
Staff Responsibility: Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Comments: In development
Fiscal Year: 2024

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected to be available on this website. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

In January of 2022, the U.S. DOT released its Equity Action Plan, which describes key actions the department will engage in to expand access and opportunity to public transportation focusing on “underserved, overburdened, and disadvantaged communities” as well as “reinvigorating U.S. DOT’s programmatic enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.” In research related to public transportation, we also endeavor to have equity in our ongoing customer survey work, which means there is a distinct need to develop protocols that engage hard-to-reach populations and ensure representation of minority and underserved populations in our research.

Hard-to-reach populations are any group of people who have been historically difficult to identify and are difficult to engage in research projects. This includes minority, low-income, and low English language–proficiency customers. Those who do not have access to technologies involved in newer forms of surveying, such as online research, are considered hard-to-reach in this context. Making sure that every customer, regardless of their income, race, or primary language, has an equal chance of participating in research leading to a meaningful engagement provides insights into these populations and provides data for Title VI reporting and service and fare equity analysis.

This research seeks to identify and understand potential barriers to participation, including mistrust of the research request, not understanding how the results will benefit them, fear of providing personal information, cultural beliefs that may prohibit participation, and low literacy levels.

As we expand participation among hard-to-reach populations such as minorities and customers with disabilities, we must develop approaches that ensure that the final research product includes enough responses to allow for a statistically valid analysis of the results. We must also develop best practices for writing survey questions that can be understood by someone with limited education and use language that is clear and concise. These hard-to-reach populations are more cost prohibitive to reach and engage than typical transit riders. This research also will provide guidance as to how to use research funds more efficiently.

The main objective is to create a resource of best practices that describes the necessary steps for conducting a successful survey of public transit customers that is inclusive, affording all customers a chance to have their voices heard, while taking cost considerations into account. This resource will provide public transportation market research professionals with a deeper understanding of how to provide the best quality data to their organizations, based on the size of the operating agency and the scope of the operations, with the resources that are available. 

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