"The message in this report is clear: telecommuting will not
totally replace routine travel to work, but its implementation is
complementary to our existing and new transportation infrastructure
and policies, and can make a significant contribution to a reduction
in peak travel demand"
This is the verdict of the authors of a report from Ireland, Telecommuting,
the shortest route to work.
Dublin, like most modern cities, has developed an acute traffic
problem. As elsewhere, a raft of policies are being implemented to
deal with the problems of urban travel: promoting public transport,
restricting car access, encouraging cycling and working. but as
elsewhere, such polices - encouraging people to shift to other modes
of transport - are meeting limited success. Traffic planners line up
their new initiatives like Canute on the beach, facing the inexorable
tide of traffic growth. They have faith but precious little evidence
that these policies will get people out of their cars to any
Can teleworking help?
In such circumstances, attention is turning
towards the possible impact of teleworking in reducing traffic. This
report takes a very level headed view on the possibilities for the
Dublin area, and sets them in the context of other "demand
The raw figures from this study will disappoint
the teleworking "evangelists":
"It is evident that the current trend in
telecommuting will not have a major impact on traffic levels...
"The scenario modelling exercise points to
a modest but positive contribution from telecommuting towards
ameliorating Dublin's car-borne commuting congestion"
The figures? On the "most likely"
scenarios, the reduction is in the region of 2,500 car trips per day
(1.3%), plus about another 1,000 from other modes of transport. This
is on the basis of continued growth of telecommuting to the year
Not very exciting stuff, perhaps. Nonetheless it
stands up to comparison with other proposed and much more costly
"mode-shift" measures cited in the report, e.g.
- upgrade suburban train lines, stations and
signalling - impact: 1,300 trips per day
- introduce park & ride site (impact: 500
- complete the cycleway network and provide
additional cycle facilities - impact 4,000 trips
- introduce 150 additional buses to service -
Results based on "do minimum" scenario
There is an interesting comparison to be made
when it comes to looking at how traffic reduction measures are
approached. In the case of telecommuting, there are no policies in
place, and the study is based on the low rate of increase in
Other measures, however, are the subject of
numerous policy initiatives, partnership activities and very large
amounts of public funding from the government and other agencies.
So one of the conclusions of the study is that
the projected impact of telecommuting is positive enough to be the
basis for new incentives to encourage telecommuting in the area. One
is tempted to wonder what impact telecommuting would be making if it
had had as much in the way of public attention and subsidy as public transport
has over the past decade.
And in the list of recommendations for promoting
telecommuting is a call for a pilot study in one of the government
departments to assess the costs and benefits.
Assumptions in the study
The report cites the 1997 study by HOP in the
Cambridge (UK) area. The HOP study, which is cited in the report,
projected a reduction of between 4% and 8% (minimum and maximum
scenarios), but saw the benefits being eroded by continuing increases
in car use for other purposes, unless measures are taken by local
authorities to limit car access.
Two key differences between the studies are:
- the Dublin study did not conduct a workplace
analysis of the incidence of "teleworkable tasks",
but relies entirely on managers' and employees' self-assessment.
This creates projections underpinned by the principle of
"what is, will be", based on people's lack of knowledge
about new ways of working
- it (therefore?) has a very restricted view of
who could potentially telecommute.
The Dublin study defines Potential Telecommuters
as people who:
- are social class AB or C1, aged 25-34
- may be self-employed
- have variable journey time to work and
variable distance to work
- typically spend an hour or more travelling to
- occasionally telecommute now.
Though based on responses to their surveys, this
seems far too limiting, especially when looking to the future. It more
or less rules out new areas of work becoming viable on a remote
working basis, and fails to take account of the
impact of corporate teleworking schemes (as BT are starting to
introduce) which will have a large impact on the numbers of people
telecommuting regardless of their age, social class and journey time
So the study is very self-limiting in its
projections. It advocates wider uptake of telecommuting: what would
have been useful would have been some projections of figures if large employers
were to bite the bullet and allow/encourage/require
teleworking. Then the policy-makers would know the targets they could
One can understand the reason for the authors'
caution: they want to remain as close to the findings of their initial
surveys and are unwilling to speculate. The study provides a valuable
baseline for the minimum that could be achieved in traffic reduction
if current telecommuting work patterns and prejudices remain
unchanged, and if public authorities do nothing to encourage it.
The report, Telecommuting, the shortest route
to work by Amárach Consulting, was commissioned by the Dublin
Transportation Office, Telecom Eireann and Telework Ireland. Price
Available from: Government Publications, Postal
Trade Section, 4-5 Harcourt Road, Dublin 2, Ireland
Tel: 01 661 3111 ext 4040/4045
Fax: 01 475 2760