495 Express Lanes Bus Service: TDM Market Research - Wells + Associates

Wood Street

TDM Market Research to Shape Positive Transportation Behavior Change

The opening of the I-495 express lanes gave those traveling to and from Fairfax County, Virginia new, convenient transportation choices. As part of the Fairfax Connector service, three new express busses were created to carry commuters from parts of the County that didn’t previously have bus service to Tysons Corner. The 495 express lanes also expanded options for carpoolers and vanpoolers, contributing to a less congested Northern Virginia region.

For the County to reap the benefits, residents and visitors to Fairfax and the greater Washington DC metropolitan area needed to hear about, understand, and take advantage of these options. To achieve the program goals, a marketing campaign would introduce the new transportation choices. For the campaign to be success, it would need to distill the benefits of a seemingly complex system into easy to understand, relevant and engaging public education campaigns.


Fairfax County called on Wells + Associates’ TDM consultants to conduct essential commuter market research that would make this marketing campaign a success.

Stakeholder Interviews
W+A organized and used formal interviews with FCDOT staff; stakeholders such as the local Transportation Management Associations: Dulles Area Transportation Association (DATA) and the Tysons TYTRAN; major Tysons employers such as Capital One and SAIC; and commuters. The objective was to better understand the landscape of existing programs and services so we could identify specific messages and communications products that would resonate with commuters. W+A identified appropriate interview subjects and scripted the interviews.

Focus Groups
W+A conducted two focus group sessions – one with commuters and one with employers. These focus groups tapped into attitudes and tested the effectiveness of specific messaging concepts for the new Fairfax Connector service, as well as other transport modes on the I-495 express lanes. W+A used focus groups to: 

  • Provide better understanding of perceived challenges and benefits 
  • Gather research and intelligence on media that would work best 
  • Identify effective channels for communication 
  • Identify influential individuals in target audiences 
  • Test creative concepts and messages

For each focus group, we recruited participants, developed a moderator’s guide, provided participants with pertinent background information in advance, coordinated invitations to participate, and managed the logistics of the meetings. Our professional and experienced focus group moderators were effective at putting participants at ease and eliciting honest and helpful responses.

At the conclusion of each focus group, W+A developed a summary report that included data analysis and recommendations for messages and marketing strategies. In addition, we prepared a PowerPoint presentation of the main findings and recommendations for the client to present and discuss at a gathering of their key stakeholders.

Potential Rider Surveys
Because FCDOT was still designing elements of the new Fairfax Connector service that would run on the I-495 express lanes, there was opportunity for customer feedback. Factors such as fares, hours of operation, and system amenities were essential to understand before service was launched. W+A designed, implemented and analyzed an online survey of potential Fairfax Connector bus riders to determine a variety of factors including:

  • Prices they would pay to ride the bus
  • Hours they want the bus to run
  • Routing options that would influence their decision to ride the bus

W+A developed promotions and communications plans to help deploy the survey effectively at employer sites throughout Tysons Corner. To maximize response, W+A worked with FCDOT’s Employer Services program to determine which employers would provide the strongest response rates and data quality. W+A presented the full results and analysis to FCDOT.

Public Meetings
For a successful and well-received bus service launch, Fairfax County needed to solicit public input. W+A helped organize and staff forums at employer sites and in the communities where busses originate.