In the ever-evolving world of data collection, for the past several years Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) researchers have completed numerous leading-edge studies that compare travel data collected from cell, GPS (global positioning system), and Bluetooth sources to determine which technology works best for collecting origin-destination (O-D) data for different types of transportation studies. An O-D study is used to identify travel patterns and movements of traffic during specified time periods such as an average weekday, weekend, or during major events. O-D data provide critical information for routing and alignment studies and in long-range transportation planning, especially in areas facing substantial growth.
The methods and practice of collecting and analyzing O-D data using cell, GPS, and Bluetooth® are still evolving and remain in a state of transition. While significant strides have been made in this area, uncertainties still remain about the capabilities and limitations of each technology, how they compare, and which technology (or combination of technologies) is best suited for different types of O-D studies.
“The data from these technologies have transformed the way information on O-D and travel patterns is collected and estimated,” said TTI Transportation Planning Program Manager Ed Hard. “The old traditional methods of collecting O-D data using roadside and license match surveys have for the most part been replaced using these new technology sources. In our research, we compared the capabilities and attributes of each technology to see how well they collect O-D data for different distances, durations of time, and geographic scales such as large metropolitan regions versus smaller urban areas. By doing this, we were able to establish some general guidelines on the suitability of each technology in relation to different types of O-D studies.”
For example, planning studies focus more on O-D matrices of travel between zones in an urban area, so there is not a need for detailed accuracy to determine the precise routes used. For these types of studies, cell data is generally best. On the other hand, a routing study to determine where traffic on a section of freeway is coming from and going to would probably need GPS data since its positional accuracy is much better than that of cell data.
The results of the research, which was sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Model Improvement Program, yielded a Synopsis, which is intended to serve as a quick go-to reference for providing guidance on using cell, GPS, and Bluetooth for different types of O-D studies.
“This research is among the first in the country to provide benchmarking and validation for O-D estimates derived from cell, GPS, and Bluetooth technologies,” explained Hard. “Within the past few years, state and local transportation agencies have begun to purchase new technology O-D data from private sector data aggregators, but there hasn’t been any guidance on which type of data is best for different applications, and that’s what we’ve been able to provide.”