Participant Information and Study Progress

Thank you for your participation in the traffic study conducted by the Georgia State University and University of Central Florida. During your participation in the study the researchers could not share many details about the “why” and “how” of the process. Now though, since we have concluded the field portion of the experiment we can give some insight into the rationale behind the tasks you’ve performed and a little bit into about what we are seeing in the data

We are interested in four main types of behavior that relate to how people respond to time delays due to traffic congestion and different monetary costs with taking different routes. First, we are interested in studying the extent to which a general aversion to risk may influence such route choices. Second, we are interested in understanding how different people value the time during their commutes, expecting some people to perceive a much higher cost of delays than others. Third, we want to assess how accurate commuters beliefs are about the actual travel times on various routes, and finally we want to see how sensitive drivers are to changes in the monetary costs of the routes.

As you may remember you attended four sessions, and in two of them you were driving in a simulator with a realistic steering wheel set up and brake/gas pedals. The object of these tasks was to help the researchers better understand the participant’s willingness to take on risk when it comes to traffic and punctuality. These tasks also help us understand how drivers form beliefs about how much travel times differ on various routes. Though it may not have been apparent to you while driving that day, you were making decisions on what route to take and how to maximize your earnings given the risk that a school bus could appear on one of the routes and slow down traffic. You may find it interesting that many of your fellow participants behaved similarly behind the wheel and were intent on “getting to work on time”!  When the risk that the school bus would come got high enough, the general inclination was to take the route without the school bus and to pay the toll instead. Of course, as the toll got higher, fewer participants were willing to pay it. This mimicked the observed behavior while participants commuted in their actual vehicle which we could observe using the GPS recording devices.

There were also some tasks in which you were given a choice between lotteries that were presented using pie charts. These pie charts represented possible payouts given the participant’s roll of a die. Again, this measured the willingness to take on risk  and we could see that, similar to behavior in the driving simulators, as the risk of getting the lower payoff increased the safer lottery was chosen even though the average payoff for that was much lower. Thus, willingness to take on risk is similar across lotteries and driving and it is a fundamental type of behavior that does not vary much across contexts.

Finally you had tasks in which you were paid according to how well you could guess the actual travel times on routes you would drive on. For these tasks we used a computer program where you could move sliders.  As it turns out most drivers overestimate the time savings of choosing an expressway over a local road.

Again, the study team and the sponsor are grateful for your time and effort in this research study. If you have any questions, you can always feel free to email us at dbel@gsu.edu and for additional information access. The findings of this study will be used to design both transportation policy and additional research into these question.

 

Thank you,

Dr. Elisabet Rutstrom, Director Dean’s Behavioral Economics Lab.

Principal Investigator in the Traffic Study.