New PSRC household travel survey released

2019 data offers snapshot of travel behavior before COVID-19

More than 3,000 households in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties took part in the 2019 PSRC Household Travel Survey, keeping diaries of who traveled, where, why, and how they got around.

Data from the survey provides rich information about how people journey across the region. It also helps PSRC and local governments make planning decisions.

Some of the survey questions asked about online shopping habits and four types of home deliveries and services.

Online shopping and deliveries are an important part of the travel story; not only do people have an impact on the transportation system with the trips they make, but also the food, packages, and services they buy.

Since many private companies keep data about movement of their goods and services secret, these survey questions help fill in data gaps that would be missed if PSRC asked only about how individuals traveled.

Early findings from the survey have some insights about households using the internet to buy goods and services rather than making trips themselves.

The share of households receiving package deliveries (such as FedEx or UPS packages) on an average weekday grew by 50% from 2017 to 2019. Preliminary analysis of the data suggests that people spent more time shopping online in 2019 than they did two years earlier. That extra time shopping may have meant more packages ordered.

But when it came to groceries and meal deliveries, the share of households using them was essentially unchanged. In 2017 and 2019, 2% or less of households had groceries or meals delivered to their homes on an average weekday.

The tiny percentage of households ordering provisions via computer or smartphone might be surprising—especially here in the middle of Amazon country. It jibes with national data, though, which suggests Americans have yet to embrace buying their milk and potatoes online. The Harvard Business Review and others reported last year that only 2 to 3% of the U.S. shops for groceries on the internet.

These are pre-COVID-19 numbers; the pandemic may have spurred more people to try these delivery services since the survey.

Meal delivery services were brought in by only a small percentage of survey households. Just 1% ordered pizza or used a service like Grubhub on an average weekday.

Home services like landscaping, cable service, and house-cleaning were used more frequently than the others (5%), but essentially unchanged from 2017.

On an average weekday, almost one out of four people went online to shop. Most of them spent less than 30 minutes shopping; a small minority browsed for more than an hour.

A total of 3,044 households took part in the travel survey, representing a cross section of the region’s demographics and income levels.

The 2019 Household Travel Survey gives a snapshot in time of travel behavior shortly before COVID-19. Another survey is planned for 2021 and will show what’s changed since the pandemic started. For example, will food deliveries go up after months of eat-in restaurant closures?

View the 2019 survey at psrc.org/household-travel-survey-program.

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