Undertaking a Household Travel Survey (HTS) in a pandemic: A Smart Approach

  1. Introduction

As part of its broader work looking at the improvement of mobility, the Global Future Cities Programme (GFCP) in Malaysia has undertaken a month-long Household Travel Survey (HTS) Campaign in March 2021 to collect daily household travel data within Iskandar Malaysia and Melaka. Iskandar Malaysia is located at the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia and on the border with Singapore, while Melaka is the state that is centred on the UNESCO World Heritage City and historic trading hub of the same name.

These data will enable the development of transport models that will be used to analyse travel demands in both these regions. The data gathered will include individual trips, preferred modes of transportation, trip lengths and other mobility information. They will inform improvements to mobility by supporting the development of GFCP interventions - Iskandar Malaysia’s Smart Integrated Mobility Management System (SIMMS) and Melaka’s Green Transport Masterplan.

  1. About the survey

The survey was conducted using the PerjalananKu[1] Mobile Application specifically developed for the project in partnership with UK’s behaviour change experts, BetterPoints[2]. The participants who sign up for the survey download the app from the Google or Apple stores and then register their details. The app makes use of the participants’ own smartphone technology to monitor their journeys and prompts them to record both the purpose and mode used.

The app was developed to enable some of the challenges of social distancing and remote working to be overcome by reducing personal contact between interview teams and participants. Ideally this would be a person-less interaction with social media channels being used to sign up the participants. However, this proved more difficult and is discussed under the lessons learnt. Nevertheless, we consider that this use of technology and the overall approach can be used for other activities and sectors where traditionally, great dependence has been made on face to face methods. Furthermore, the use of smart technology enables the app to communicate with participants at any time by sending in-app prompts and enables automatic information capture so that participants can utilise the application in a hassle-free manner.

Figure 1 – User interface of PerjalananKu

Figure 2 – Some of the steps, including registration, location settings, and trip confirmation

  1. Planning the survey

Proper planning of a survey is fundamental to delivering successful outcomes. Since this survey would require introducing innovative techniques, a focus group was formed to test the survey. A group of eight people from a range of backgrounds in both cities was established. Using interactive sessions, the focus group identified that some of the introductory app messaging was too long and may put off participants especially those from key stakeholder groups, such as the B40[3] and the elderly who may not be technology proficient.

After incorporating the focus group’s comments, a pilot version of PerjalananKu was made available. This was intended to target 100 households in each city however slow sign up rates due to restricted access meant that only 64 individuals responded.

The pilot was used to trial and test the app with typical local participants to identify problems while using it, to ensure that it would record their journeys and could communicate with them. This trial was carried out over a period of a week and included participants from the GFCP in-country team, city partners as well as their friends and family. The feedback enabled the app to be modified to accommodate local requirements and terminology. Furthermore, it has enabled real data to be shared with stakeholders and potential participants to show how data are collected and how they would support the GFCP in developing the overall projects.

  1. Data privacy

The concept of data privacy lies at the heart of the survey and data are collected strictly under the auspices of the Global Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), as BetterPoints is a UK-based company, and the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) in Malaysia.

The process for keeping participants data secure is based on creating a series of basic steps in the storing of data. During data collection all personal data are stored separately from the recorded travel data. Then, the data are further anonymised by collating the outputs into cells, these are areas to be used for transport modelling such as housing estates, hospitals, shopping areas and so on. This latter process breaks the connection with exact start and end points of journeys further anonymising the data.

  1. Creating and incentivising participation

A major challenge was to sign up as many households as possible. Using our city partners and their channels provided one means and this created initial engagement and provided reference material as the survey appeared in the local media and on the Malaysia National News Agency’s website. However, after an initial flourish of several hundred participants in each city the need for greater on the ground activity was identified. Figure 3 shows the completion of the initial survey sign up survey reflecting when people downloaded and interacted with the app. Each of the major peaks occurred when the GFCP was able to visit the city, showing the continuing need for direct engagement.

Figure 3 - Dates when participants first used the app


    • Interactive engagement using technology

The app features an engaging user interface through its use of a cool colour palette. It also aims to have a simple user experience to allow easy navigation for people of all ages.

Crucial for engagement, the app provides a simple summary of the environmental and health impacts of their trips. For example, if a participant chooses to walk instead of drive then the app generates information on their resultant carbon footprint as well as the number of calories burnt during their trip, as shown in Figure 4. This provides thought-provoking information to enable participants to make decisions and changes to their travel patterns to live a healthier lifestyle and benefit the environment.

Figure 4 – App feedback on environmental and health impact of each trip


    • Providing an incentive

Since doing surveys are intrusive and requires both the participants’ goodwill and continued effort, it was viewed that a gesture should be made to thank them for the participation. Furthermore, it raised the opportunity to create an incentive to encourage greater participation and therefore, a headline prize of RM1,000 for each city was chosen to increase sign up rates. Additionally, in each city smaller prizes of RM100 were drawn for 25 lucky winners and for the first 1,000 participants in each city (early birds) a reward of RM20 vouchers was given.

Read more about the main prize winners in Appendix A - Our lucky winners which talks about their daily travel habits and how they interacted with the app.


    • Support of GFCP partners and other stakeholders

The vast majority of the community groups approached were very open and welcomed the initiative, as it would benefit the people of Iskandar Malaysia and Melaka.

Clearly, the GFCP’s day-to-day working relationship with City Partners, Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), Unit Perancang Ekonomi (UPEN) Melaka and Perbadanan Teknologi Hijau Melaka (PTHM) was important in increasing both the publicity of the survey and increasing the number of participants.