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A Green Dream
Telecommuting Waxes as the Car Commute Wanes

Americans are spending less time commuting than they used to do. That’s the finding of a new Pew summary of research on America’s commuting habits:

Nationwide, the percentage of workers who commute by car declined from 88 percent in 2000 to 86 percent in 2010-2013, according to a Stateline analysis of census numbers. Car commuting percentages were down dramatically in some urban areas, but also in smaller Western towns that are making a focused effort to promote alternatives.

The places with the most dramatic declines include the District of Columbia, where the rate declined 11 percentage points to 39 percent; the Bronx, New York, where it was down 9 percentage points to 28 percent; and Hudson County, New Jersey (home of Jersey City), where it was down 8 percentage points to 47 percent.

The story mentions a number of factors, including increases in the number of people living and working in walkable areas as well as improved public transportation systems. But one thing it does not mention is the rise of telecommuting. According to one study, the number of companies allowing their employees to telework has increased from 23 percent to 38 percent in the last six years. That seems like a relevant figure to incorporate into any analysis of waning commuting. Thanks to the computer, those dense, walkable communities aren’t the only places that can hope to decrease commuting; employees can telecommutes just as easily from the suburbs as from anywhere else.

The rise of telecommuting is an important but often underreported story. Telecommuting reduces emissions and helps kill the physical commute, thereby allowing people to enjoy the suburban life so many of them still want without many of the costs its imposes.

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  • Josephbleau

    It does not surprise me that “telecommuting” has been a big hit among DC government workers. makes perfect sense, their supervisors don’t have to work as hard either. I will say that i recently moved from the burbs to Chicago and I love it and go to the office every day because with a 10 min commute I would rather sit in my corporate chair than in my less comfortable home one.

  • Corlyss

    “According to one study, the number of companies allowing their employees to telework has increased from 23 percent to 38 percent in the last six years.”

    IMO you guys are looking at the wrong stats. You should be trying to find out how many employees are covered by these various increases. I think it is relatively small.

  • Skeptic

    Telecommuting is certainly nice, but there is something lacking when one is not present. Chance hallway meetings, chatting with colleagues, and being easily found/reachable all have their benefit. Personally, I enjoy being “in the mix” even if it affects my productivity, but occasionally I take a day to bury my head in a project in my house without the office interruptions.

    The joke at work is to call it “telepretending”. Rumors of toilets flushing in the background on conference calls and mental images of colleagues “brainstorming” while mowing the lawn lead to this impression. If one isn’t around to answer questions, mentor new employees, and have a hand in daily operations my sense is that they lose a bit of influence.

    I’m somewhat suspicious of the motives behind these efforts, as well. It all seems like a ploy to push expenses on to the worker. Until I get a “utility credit” for powering my computer at home, I’ll remain a little less enthusiastic about it.

  • FriendlyGoat

    This all depends on the type of job a person has. You cannot meet with the public or clients at home. You CAN write or code at home.
    You CAN also do anything measured by piecework and which can be audited. (I know a person who processes insurance claims at home.)

    Companies must balance the costs of maintaining office space and the costs of office “politics” against other considerations. Some will continue to approve telecommuting and some won’t. It will vary with industry and job description.

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