Zen in the Art of Travel Behavior:
Using Visual Ethnography to Understand the Transit Experience


Much transportation research has sought to understand the factors influencing people's decisions to travel via one mode or another. Bodies of literature, overwhelmingly quantitative, exist about mode choice and the demographics of travel behavior. Most of this research has focused on the who, what, when, and why aspects of travel. Little research has sought to explain how people travel, particularly the experiential aspects of travel. This project seeks to fill this gap in the transportation literature by examining travel behavior and decision-making using the firsthand visual accounts of transit users in Los Angeles.

Participants captured their own journeys on transit through photography, in an attempt to gather real-time details about their travel experiences. Analysis of participants' photos and accompanying travelogues show that riders define the temporal and spatial boundaries of their trips in different ways. These visual "texts" also provide an inventory of the most salient physical and social components of transit environments from the perspective of actual system users. For practitioners, these findings suggest that elements of the transit journey that take place outside of vehicles - travel to and from stations and stops and wait times at these points - are significant to transit riders, in both positive and negative ways. In addition, the social aspects of travel and people's interactions with each other as well as the environment around them are important in shaping the ways in which travelers perceive and value the transit experience. This social aspect of transit travel is an important, albeit understudied, component of transit use.

This report contains but a small sampling of the hundreds of photographs and scores of captions uploaded by the study participants. Readers interested in a more comprehensive selection of the photo diaries created for this study can view additional photos at the project's website: http://www.its.ucla.edu/uclatransitphotos.