Does telecommuting alter travel behavior and residential choice?



The potential of telecommuting to alter travel patterns—and even mitigate congestion during peak hours—has sparked interest among transportation planners. Despite this potential, however, the actual impact of telecommuting on traffic has remained an open question.

In a recent study, U of M researchers examined the impacts of telecommuting on travel behavior in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. One key finding: regular, non-daily telecommuting is on the rise. While those who telecommuted every day dropped, the number of people who telecommuted once a week or more increased, says Jason Cao, an associate professor with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

The research team’s first task was investigating how telecommuters and non-telecommuters differ from each other in terms of demographic and land-use characteristics. Some sample findings:

  • In one-worker households, telecommuters tended to be more affluent, more highly educated, older, and more likely to have multiple jobs than non-telecommuters.
  • Multiple-worker telecommuting households tended to be more affluent, have more members, and live in more job-rich areas than non-telecommuting households.

Next, researchers set out to determine how telecommuting replaces or complements auto use. Their data analysis shows that the effects of telecommuting on travel are limited for multiple-worker households, but that it tends to increase travel of one-worker households, particularly for non-work travel. The team also found that the share of one-worker telecommuting households increased from 13 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2010, and other telecommuting frequency categories also increased, Cao says.

Finally, researchers examined how telecommuting affects where people choose to live. Research results indicate that while telecommuting has no influence on commute distance for one-worker households, it tends to decrease average commute distances for multiple-worker households.

This research is part of a five-part report sponsored by the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Transportation based on data produced by the council’s Travel Behavior Inventory household travel survey.

Read the full article in the September issue of Catalyst.

Posted in Planning, Transportation research, Travel Behavior, Urban transportation

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