Working from home: Could it really reduce traffic congestion?
You have all no doubt seen recent headlines about the impact that social distancing will have on public transport, on walking and cycling and on traffic congestion, as business and schools reopen.
Social distancing measures will be with us for quite some time and the impacts will continue to be felt as we move around in our communities. I applaud the quick-thinking that our state governments are doing in this constantly evolving crisis to make our lives easier in the short-term, especially in such a ‘learn-as-we-go’ scenario.
In addition to this rapid adaptation, there are underlying opportunities for more enduring action. As we have all been involuntary (but not necessarily unwilling) participants in the great working from home experiment, we have also been part of the great transport disruption initiative. Before COVID, transport and work were inextricably linked for most people, with office-based working the prevalent model, even for roles that did not intrinsically require attendance on-site.
But now, we see increasing numbers of companies advising their workforce that a 100% work from home option is available permanently. This might not be the perfect option for all companies, but surely many (ours included) are looking hard at of having more people work from home more often.
While this is the perspective at a company level, governments are keen to harness the disruption to solve some of our perpetual headaches, not least congestion. Most of you in large urban centres will have experienced during any recent travel the sheer joy of moving around unimpeded by the usual traffic queues.
All of this suggests that ongoing working from home could help unclog our roads. To confirm this, we need to gain a deeper understanding of the drivers. What percentage of people are actually working from home rather than just not working? What percentage reduction in traffic during our peak travel times is needed to deliver smooth traffic flow? And, how much of this reduction could be delivered by working from home?
Some of Australia’s best academics are already making good progress in understanding the trends – I am thinking here of the Working From Home insights recently shared by Professor David Hensher at the University of Sydney. We need to extend this in-depth research to generate data on which companies, individuals and governments can make sensible policy choices. This research will inform initiatives and policy, and enable us to develop sustainable changes to the relationship between work and travel.
iMOVE is already talking to a number of partners about potential projects in this area, and we are keen to explore further. If your company or government department has an interest and wishes to participate, please contact me.