Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Another Milestone in Telework

From the Washington Examiner:

More than 1,000 of Fairfax County's 5,000 eligible employees now work from home or from a telework center at least one day a week, according to County Board Chairman Gerald Connolly. Reaching the 1,000-employee milestone eliminates 1.8 million commuting miles annually and prevents 720,000 pounds of pollutants from entering the air.

Reports the Examiner: "Across the region, roughly 320,000 employees work from home or from telework centers at least once a week, about 13 percent of the work force, according to the most recent State of the Commute survey conducted by the Council of Governments. Hundreds of thousands more would stay home if given the option, numerous studies have concluded."

13 Comments:

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Yay, Yay, Yay.

Go for it.

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Part of a story in the Washington Post, Oct 27, 2003.

"Some of the chief complainers about the Washington region's notorious traffic jams are business leaders who blame congestion for delayed deliveries, missed meetings and employees sapped of energy from stressful commutes.

"They push for billions of dollars worth of new or widened highways and extended subway service -- projects that have gotten stymied in years of studies, public debate and budget battles.

"But many traffic experts say businesses, federal agencies and other employers could do far more to help reduce traffic backups almost immediately and relatively cheaply by allowing more employees to work from home or from a telework center even one day a week.

"'I think out of all the options we have, it's one of the easiest things we could do' to reduce traffic delays, said Laurie Schintler, a George Mason University assistant professor who researched the potential of telecommuting in the Washington region.

"Even with promising data on time savings, increased productivity and greater accessibility to high-speed Internet from home computers, the idea hasn't taken hold with most employers.

"For every additional 3 percent of commuters who worked from home on any given day, traffic delays would be cut by 10 percent, Schintler said, based on projections using computer traffic models. That would feel like the lighter traffic that motorists now enjoy Friday mornings, when many people work from home or start their weekends early. For motorists with a one-hour round-trip commute, the time savings would add up to an extra half-hour of free time every week."

Not the total solution, but it could probably help in some locations. What if we could get six percent of the Metro Washington vehicles off the road on a regular basis during M-F mornings and evening commutes? What would that cost? What would that save in capital expenditures? Shouldn't Professor Schintler be invited to testify before the GA?

 
At 3:51 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

This is encouraging news, and it's part of the whole question of whether people (and their employers) are willing to change their behaviors to help deal with the limited transportation capacity.

If companies can accept employees working from home one day a week or more, than surely they can accept them getting to work a half-hour earlier, or later. Talk about unused capacity. That's why I think congestion pricing needs a second and third look.

 
At 11:20 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

After thinking about it, Ive decided the fuel savings argument is bogus: I'm pretty sure that fuel will be burned.

For one thing, all those people that stay home will make it easier for others to travel. It's the old induced travel argument. Building more roads didn't meet the demand, building Metro and rail didn't meet the demand. There is no reason to think this will be any different.

It is true you can string a lot of wire for the price of a mile of highway, so you can cover a lot more territory. If you decouple the cost of travel from the cost of urban land, then more people will be able to live where they want, or they will be able to choose between high cost accomodations and low cost accomodations irrespective of the cost of travel.

Also, most people lower the thermostat when they leave home, and now that won't happen. If less fuel is burned, it will lower the price and make driving farther more economical, or else the fuel will get sold in China.

I'm happy for the people, they will live better and safer lives. But the social benefit may prove to be so diffuse we can't measure it. It's like taking a boat out of the water and trying to measure the drop in sea level.

 
At 11:34 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Congestion pricing will relieve congestion, no doubt. But it will increase the cost of doing business in that area with the result that people will go elsewhere: more sprawl.

I don't know how you would measure it but my gut feeling is that people prefer sprawl to density and congestion. The idea that they might pay to avoid it confirms the idea.

"...the whole question of whether people (and their employers) are willing to change their behaviors to help deal with the limited transportation capacity."

We should re-examine the whole issue of the employers relationship to transportation. The get the economic benefits of agglomerating their businesses and they pass the cost of transportation off on society.

Maybe our road system isn't subsidising commuters at all, but their employers. If that is true, then we need to re-think the whole Pay-your-own-full-price argument.

I said before that some economists have concluded that heavy rail has zero net economic benefit. I haven't seen anyone credible attack or refute their data.
So the only benefit of VRE is to the employers it serves, how much do they pay to support it?. VRE certainly isn't helping those people who will wind up living in a tower next to the tracks.

 
At 7:07 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Let's play with Ray Hyde's suggestion that we are subsidizing businesses through the transportation infrastructure. If true, would it make sense to tax parking spaces and to place a real estate surcharge on commercial properties within walking distance of rail, including Metrorail? What would that do? Would it also make economic sense to surcharge residential properties within walking distance of rail? (I tend to agree with Mr. Hyde that people value space more than density for their homes.)

We probably would not save total energy with large-scale telecommuting. It's a boon for the power and natural gas companies, as well as the Verizons, Coxes & Comcasts of this world. But until someone rebuts Professor Schinlter, it seems clear to me that we would extend the busy hour capacity of the roads.

 
At 12:25 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Some employers do support transit through employee benefit packages. I imagine those are a business expense to the company.

A hidden benefit of VRE is that you can sleep, work, read, or chat on the train with other co-workers. These all transfer as benefits to the employing company.

I still think it's better to move the company than it is to move several thousand tons of steel and employees up and down the track (road) every day.

At least with employers lumped in one area you know where to build the roads and transit lines TO. If an emploer is planning a move to be closer to his employees, how does he know where that is? You could wind up with employers and employees scattered around and the resulting crisscross travel patterns might be worse.

EMR's argument is that you go the other way. Put all the employees as close as possible to where they work, even on top of where they work.

Both options could work, and both options have both problems and limitations. Both options will probably be used according to the tastes and desires of employers and employees.

My only point is that we do not know what the answer is, don't have enough data to talk about it, and if we had the data, we don't have an accepted way of modeling or predicting future trends in existing processes, let alone future changes.

If we had the model and the data, we would still need to test it before we know if it works, and those tests will take tens of years.

If you don't know what the disease is or how it works, you can still treat the symptoms.

We don't know where everybody's car is going but we know they pollute, let's work on that.

More than half of congestion delays are caused by incidents, let's work on that.

We know we are using land faster than previously, lets stop requiring large lots. If everyone in the US had one acre lot, we would still use less than 5% of the land area. Get over it.

We can do more good by going after the easy, obvous, less controversial stuff than by proposing that the only solution is Fundamentally Changing every thing from all the government and laws to all the built environment we have already invested in for 200 years.

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

For someone with such affection for data, I don't know how you can make the unsupported claim that congestion pricing will raise the cost of doing business, and so chase businesses elsewhere.

I would add that businesses have faced other cost increases that could be avoided if they picked up and moved, but they don't. If you accept the premise that this would be an increased cost, what makes this the straw that breaks the camel's back? It's a suspect argument.

Plus - isn't there reason to be wary of letting scattered residential development lead the way to locating employers? I mean, even if we worked with what's on the ground now (or will be over the next 20-plus years) and then found some way to steer employers there, the transportation networks there aren't ready for that either.

But I sure agree with the last post, about going after low-hanging fruit. I just happen to think that congestion pricing is one of those strategies; remembering that the idea is not to actually collect tolls, it's to get people to change their travel habits.

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

Congestion pricing also would address the point that Ray raises: that taking telecommuters off the road just "induces" an increase in ridership by others. (I'm glad to see that Ray accepts the premise, in this instance at least, that induced demand is a real phenomenon.) Slap on a congestion-pricing toll and you'll put a crimp on that induced demand.

 
At 4:10 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

OK, you guys both got me.

Jim:

I have previously argued against the idea of induced demand, and subsequently modified my argument. (I found new studies).

They say we are not sure if the demand is induced or latent, whether the roads are meeting previously pent up demand or making new.

Probably it is some of each and the process is iterative. The end result is the same: we build roads and if we build them where people want to go, then they get full.

What I've decided is that the latent/induced demand argument is independent of mode. By saying slap on the congestion pricing, you apparently agree that telecommuting won't reduce congestion. (much/necessarily/might).



Bob: I don't have the data.(yet) I concede the point.

London instituted congestion pricing recently, before long someone will examine the level of commerce. Cost of commerce will be harder.

If you have a choice of paying a congestion toll to go do business in Arlington or travel the same distance to do business in Manassas, which will you choose?
the answer probably depends on more than the toll.


As you say the whole point is to get people to change their habits.

That is going to make it harder for core area employers to get who they want or pay more for them. (see TMT's quotation).

Even if they don't pack up and move (moving is expensive), the area will less likely be chosen for new investments, and the end result is the same.

In the meantime we now new jobs are happening faster in the suburbs than in the core (BRAC). What should we plan for?


We only want people to change their habits if we can show the change will be for the better, so far we can't prove that (one way or the other).

I'm pretty sure congestion pricing will reduce congestion. Some people will pay, some people will ride share, some people will go someplace else, some people will stay home. But I can't say the result will be "better".

Where it really gets dicey is that you only have to have a small change to reduce congestion a lot.

Until that old induced demand kicks in.

 
At 7:53 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Here is what we know about induced traffic, as far as I can tell. Early studies introduced this concept and reported that a 10% increase in lane miles resulted in as much as an 11% increase in traffic. This resulted in the frequently repeated (and probably wrong) statments "if you build it they will come" and "you can't build your way out of congestion". these have persisted even though later and more complete studies resulted in lower numbers - as low as 3%.

Even later studies, which have not been verified, and which use methodology and traffic measures that aren't exactly equivalent suggest that the number is between 0 and 3% increase for a 10% increase in roads.

The studies also showed that the increase was more closely related to time saved than to road miles.

There is still disagreement about the amount of feedback: do roads cause traffic, or are roads the proper result of increased demand. By studying the sources of the apparent increases in traffic, the studies showed that, contrary to popular belief, roads do not lead to increased development, but they do change where it takes place. roads are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for development.


The relationship between place and time is important because it results in the finding that although suburbanites travel slightly more than urban residents, they spend less time traveling. The resulting increase in the development of ring cities is a rational result of the time savings. As a related matter, it has been shown that the increase in suburban placed jobs does in fact result in less travel and more time saved.

This is the basis for my conclusion that induced traffic exists, but the effect is smaller than previously believed.

Next time I'll talk about patterns and traffic.

 
At 8:44 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

It still might be cheaper for taxpayers if we had "more places." This might be heresy, but here goes anyway.

Would it be more cost-effective for the Commonwealth to shift transportation funds from the metro areas to under-developed parts of Virginia, where jobs are sorely needed, to build the roads, etc. necessary to attract companies seeking to escape the high costs of NoVA? With housing costs and taxes outpacing wage increases, some potential employees are starting to balk at moving here. I would not be surprised to find some CEOs having the same thoughts.

I suspect that, given the high marginal cost of constructing infrastructure in NoVA, an economist might be able to prove this hypothesis correct.

Of course, those in NoVA who need continued growth to prosper would complain, but GMU's Professor Fuller's work suggest that they are in the minority. It seems fairly clear that the majority of people in NoVA are simply not involved in the local economy. Growth is probably a big cost to them.

Is the solution to Fairfax County's infrastructure mess to steer development to Danville?

 
At 3:28 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

EMR would say it is heresy. Probably you can't come to general answer, you have to look at each project. Water use use today with dishwashers etc. might be higher than in the past and you might find you need to overhaule the wter and sewer in one area.

There may not be sufficient streets or parking already, so adding more residents can't be a good idea, link to land use and all that.

But the five hundred pound gorilla is schools. I just don't think we know enough about how it all works to make a rational decision, and it is all in flux anyway, so the result is that we make political decisions and these are seen as special interest decisions.

Telecommuting has the potential for breaking the link between land use and transportation, at leas for the 20% of travel that is work related. What will that mean to our travel models?

 

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