Remote work can reduce congestion, but it can lead to other traffic problems

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

Studies conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic showed that working remotely could help reduce traffic congestion by reducing the number of vehicles on the roads at peak hours and the amount of time travelers spend on the roads. For example, a 2004 study in Waterloo, Ontario, showed that Remote work can reduce traffic congestion without affecting other home activitieserrands, such as errands, children’s activities, or social outings.

However, the potential effects of remote work on travel and congestion are difficult to assess. This is because telecommuting may also have some harmful effects, particularly those associated with living away from the workplace.

As researchers in the field of transportation and sustainability, we are interested in the effects of remote work on travel. One of our recent studies showed that Driving during peak periods was slightly lower for remote workers than for those commuting to work..

The effect of remote work on reducing congestion is not very noticeable because some remote workers have reorganized their activities, resulting in additional trips during peak periods. Also, teleworking was not widely practiced before the pandemic, which makes it difficult to see how it contributes to reducing traffic congestion.

Three times the number of remote workers

In Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the percentage of employees working remotely 39.1 percent in March 2020 From 13 percent in 2019.

At the same time, A reduction in traffic congestion has been observed worldwide, according to TomTomIt is a navigation and route planning system that collects data from the 600 million drivers who use it. Across cities across Canada, there was a significant reduction in traffic congestion in 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 2020.

Data collected by the TomTom navigation system
There was a significant decrease in traffic congestion levels in the first week of March 2020, compared to the same period in 2019 (TomTom)

While remote work has the potential to reduce car travel and reduce congestion during peak periods, it would be wrong 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 transportation because they were concerned about the increased risk of infection. As a result, many chose to travel by car instead.

The decrease in the number of passengers in Montreal, for example, was of great importance The regional transport authority does not expect passenger numbers to recover until 2032. These forecasts put the transit agency in a difficult financial position that will lead to reduced service and increased prices.

Other measures taken during the height of the pandemic – lockdowns, curfews and travel restrictions – have also contributed to reducing the number of vehicles on the road. On the other hand, according to “The principle of triple convergence“(Less traffic, new roads, or bigger roads), this drop in traffic during the pandemic likely convinced some people to use or return to roads. Those who used public transportation before the pandemic to avoid traffic may have started using their cars again. other.

Additionally, while remote work is likely to be more common in the future than it was before the pandemic – 55 percent of employees They say they prefer to continue working remotely – there is every reason to believe that it will also become less common than it is at the moment.

Remote work is likely to be used primarily as an occasional supplement to mobility. It is unlikely to become a complete alternative to mobility. According to Statistics Canada, 41 percent of workers would prefer to work about half their hours at home.

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

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

Negative effects of working remotely

The real impact of remote work in reducing car travel should not be assessed until after the pandemic, when people’s behavior was initially changed due to infection fears.

Remote work can improve certain aspects of transportation, but one must be vigilant about three potentially harmful effects.

First, putting an end to commuting may increase motorists who avoid commuting during those times.

Second, a remote worker may have fewer trips to the workplace but make other trips instead, making The total balance of trips is less than, equal to, or greater than that traveler. Also, trips not undertaken by a remote worker could provide a vehicle for use by other family members.

Third, by reducing or eliminating work-related travel through telecommuting, workers may be able to live far 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 can lead to “distance crawl”. Despite these effects have been observedthe full extent of the phenomenon is still unknown.

While remote work may be an attractive tool for reducing traffic congestion, its potential benefits can be wiped out by the behavioral changes it brings about in the medium and long term. The number of remote workers, adjustment of work schedules, commuting from home and back on public transport will determine the extent of any reduction in travel and congestion.

  • George A. Tangway He is Professeur au département d’études urbaines et Touristiques, University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM)
  • Ugo La Chapelle He is Professeur au département d’études urbaines et Touristiques, University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM)
  • This article first appeared in Conversation

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