Publication Detail

Qualitative Methods in Travel Behavior Research


Research Report

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Suggested Citation:
Clifton, Kelly J. and Susan L. Handy (2001) Qualitative Methods in Travel Behavior Research. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-01-18

This purpose of this paper is to both demonstrate the importance of qualitative methods in travel behaviour research and explore the challenges researchers face in employing them. Qualitative methods offer a powerful tool for helping us understand the complexities of travel behavior. Methods such as focus groups, interviews, and participant-observer techniques can be used in conjunction with quantitative approaches or on their own to fill the gaps left by quantitative techniques. Some of the most interesting research in travel behaviour in recent years has made use of qualitative methods of one sort or another. This paper provides an overview of the types of studies being done and some of the important results being generated. These studies have produced important new insights into travel behaviour that increase our ability to understand and address transportation problems. But doing qualitative research well is more challenging than transportation researchers might think. The nature of qualitative research raises several issues concerning theoretical frameworks, data collection, management, and analysis. While these issues are also pertinent to quantitative research, qualitative research has been criticized for lack of scientific rigor and the threat of subjective interpretation. Increasing the quantity and quality of qualitative research in transportation requires two things, an increase in the acceptance and appreciation of these techniques, and an increase in training in their use among travel behaviour researchers. Recognition of what qualitative research has contributed to the field so far is a starting point. We believe that without more widespread use of qualitative techniques in travel behaviour research, we will make little meaningful progress towards improving our fundamental understanding of travel behaviour.