Is working from home really reducing VMT?

By Saumya Jain

Several companies worldwide are now trying various strategies for reducing energy consumption, environmental impacts, overhead costs, etc. One such up and coming strategy involves transportation demand management solutions like teleworking and flexible schedules. With advancement in technology and telecommunications, teleworking is becoming easier for a variety of professionals. Cities and administrations support these initiatives with the understanding and hope that they’ll reduce congestion and total vehicle miles traveled. But do they really? A recent study disputes the assumptions and finds that for most households, teleworking has a positive relation with VMT.

Researchers at University of Lisbon, Portugal, developed path analysis models for one- and two-worker households in Great Britain to understand the effects of teleworking on household-level weekly trips and travel distances by mode. Using data from the Nation Travel Survey (2005 – 2012), they observed endogenous variables like residence and workplace land use characteristics, car ownership, commuting distance, teleworking frequency, and household trips and distance traveled. For single-worker households, the study concluded that there is a significant increase in VMT with increase in teleworking frequency. The study found out that in single-worker households, on an average, households with frequent teleworkers travel around 58.3 more miles a week than households with no teleworkers, with most of the travel done via personal automobile. For two-worker households, the study concluded that there is a positive association between frequency of teleworking and number of household car trips but no significant effect on weekly miles traveled. Thus, the study finds no evidence for home telework contributing to a reduction in VMT.

According to the University of Lisbon researchers, most studies that show a reduction in VMT due to teleworking just focus on work trips and not overall household trips. Researchers have been apprehensive in the past regarding the effects of teleworking on travel behavior. Although teleworking does help in reducing peak hour congestion, according to the TDM Encyclopedia by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, it does not always reduce total vehicle travel due to its “rebound effects” including increase in suburbanization, additional car trips, etc.

Saumya Jain is a Senior Associate at SSTI.