Telecommuting May Reduce Congestion, But May Create Other Traffic Issues StuffSA

Telecommuting has the potential to reduce traffic congestion, but other factors, such as increasing the distance between home and work or adding new routes, can contribute to producing more congestion.

Studies conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic showed that working from home can help reduce traffic congestion by decreasing the number of vehicles on the roads during rush hour and the time commuters spend on the roads. For example, a 2004 study in Waterloo, Ontario showed that working from home could potentially reduce traffic congestion without affecting other household activities, such as shopping, children’s activities or social outings.

However, the potential impacts of telework on travel and traffic jams are difficult to assess. Indeed, working from home can also have adverse effects, including those associated with living further away from the workplace.

As researchers in transport and sustainable development, we are interested in the impacts of telework on travel. One of our recent studies showed that the likelihood of driving during rush hour was slightly lower for teleworkers than for those who commuted to work.

The impact of telework on reducing congestion is barely perceptible because some teleworkers have reorganized their activities, which has led to additional travel during peak periods. Additionally, telecommuting was not widely practiced before the pandemic, making it difficult to see how it helps reduce traffic congestion.

Three times more teleworkers

In Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the percentage of employees working from home to 39.1% in March 2020, from 13% in 2019.

At the same time, decreases in traffic congestion have been seen around the world, according to TomTom, a navigation and route-planning system that collects data from the 600 million drivers who use it. In all cities across Canada, there was a significant reduction in traffic congestion during the first week of March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, and levels continued to decline throughout the year . The lowest point was reached in the second week of April in 2020.

There was a significant reduction in traffic congestion levels in the first week of March 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. (TomTom)

While working from home has the potential to reduce car travel and ease congestion during peak periods, it would be a mistake to draw conclusions based on its growth during the pandemic.

Behavioral changes

At the height of the pandemic, people were less inclined to travel by public transport because they feared increasing their risk of infection. As a result, many chose to travel by car instead.

The drop in ridership in Montreal, for example, has been so significant that the regional transport authority does not expect a rebound in the number of passengers before 2032. These forecasts place the authority in a difficult financial situation which will lead to service reductions and rate increases. .

Other measures taken at the height of the pandemic – lockdowns, curfews, travel restrictions – also contributed to a reduction in the number of vehicles on the road. On the other hand, according to the “principle of triple convergence” (less traffic, new roads or wider roads), this decrease in traffic during the pandemic has most likely convinced some individuals to use or return to the roads. Those who used public transit before the pandemic to avoid traffic jams may have started using their vehicles again.

Additionally, while working from home is likely to be more common in the future than it was before the pandemic — 55% of employees say they would prefer to continue working remotely — there is every reason to believe it will also become less common than before the pandemic. it is right now.

Teleworking is likely to be used mainly as an occasional complement to commuting. It is much less likely to become a complete substitute for commuting. According to Statistics Canada, 41% of workers would prefer to work about half of their hours at home.

Some prefer to return to work full time, while others prefer to stay home full time. However, splitting time between these two locations is a popular option.

chart showing telecommuting preferences
In a February 2021 survey, 80% of new remote workers said they would prefer to work at least half of their hours from home once the pandemic is over. (Statistics Canada)

The harmful effects of teleworking

Assessing the real impact of telework on reducing car travel should only be done after the pandemic, because initially people’s behavior was changed by fear of infection.

Telecommuting could improve certain aspects of transport, but we must be vigilant about three potentially harmful effects.

First, ending commuting could lead to an increase in the number of motorists who previously avoided commuting during these times.

Second, a teleworker may have fewer trips to work but make other trips instead, making the overall trip balance less than, equal to, or even greater than that of a commuter. In addition, trips not made by the teleworker could free up a vehicle for use by other members of the household.

Third, by reducing or eliminating work-related travel through telecommuting, workers may be able to live further away from their workplace. They may choose their location based on other factors, such as a preference for nature, quality of life, or a larger home, which could lead to teleprawl. Although such effects have been observed, the true extent of the phenomenon is not yet known.

If telework can be an attractive tool to reduce traffic congestion, its potential benefits could be erased due to the changes in behavior it induces in the medium and long term. The number of teleworkers, the adjustment of work schedules, household moves and the return to public transit will determine the extent of any reduction in travel and congestion.

  • George A. Tanguay is a Professor in the Department of Urban and Tourism Studies, University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM)
  • Ugo Lachapelle is a Professor in the Department of Urban and Tourism Studies, University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM)
  • This article first appeared in The conversation

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