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Survey uses GPS data to track Triangle travel habits

a smart phone mounted on a car dashboard shows GPS maps app
Ravi Palwe

Transportation planners in the Triangle want to know how long it takes for you to drive to the grocery store or drop off the kids at school.

More than a thousand households are participating in a travel survey. Households are selected for the Triangle Travel Survey based on geography, income, car ownership, and other factors. Participants track all of their trips in a week with a GPS-enabled smartphone app.

"It'll recognize that you went from A to B, from B to C and C back to A," says Nita Bhave with N.C. State's Institute for Transportation Research and Education. "And it'll prompt you questions like, Why did you make that trip? What was the reason that you made that trip? Maybe it was for shopping? Maybe it was for work?"

Transportation agencies and local governments will use that data to plan transit routes, or road improvements. "We develop and apply these travel demand models. Transportation planning efforts use the model that we build, to do their planning work," Bhave said.

The survey started in 2016 and it's supposed to be done every two years, but the 2020 survey was delayed to spring of 2021 due to the pandemic. Data showed a decline in the number of trips and total miles traveled.

Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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