Telecommuting most likely increases travel

By Megan Link 

We’ve written before about the impact of telecommuting on travel demand. Contrary to some common assumptions, it often results in longer non-work trips or broader changes in travel behavior. As transportation agencies consider telecommuting as a viable strategy to cut travel—especially since the pandemic—a new comprehensive review presents mixed results.   

While many studies seem to show that telecommuting is beneficial due to a reduced number of work trips, they often don’t account for the total distance people travel. Studies seeking to understand causality tend to show that telecommuting increases overall travel demand and promotes urban sprawl. Remote workers tend to offset their commutes with other trips and sometimes move farther from their workplace, which influences the travel of other household members as well.  

Cities are beginning to see this play out since the rise in hybrid work spurred by the pandemic. Since 2020, the share of commuters traveling 75 miles or more has grown by one-third, according to Stanford research reported in The Wall Street Journal. “Over time, jobs have steadily dispersed all over metro regions, including suburbs,” says one of the researchers. 

The authors of this study share considerations for future policy and research implications: 

“Contrary to the assumption that telecommuting would reduce travel and have beneficial effects for the environment, the counter-intuitive conclusion from these causal impact studies urges more attention be paid to the potential negative consequences of telecommuting for congestion, urban sprawl, and pollution across different regions, work situations and population groups.” 

Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels, unmodified. License