Impacts of Telecommuting and Remote Services on Transportation, Land Use, And Climate Change
- Sustainable Communities & Climate Protection Program
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- Impacts of Telecommuting and Remote Services on Transportation, Land Use, And Climate Change
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As part of the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (SB 375), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in California are considering telecommuting and remote services, including e-learning, online shopping, and telemedicine, as elements of their sustainable communities strategies (SCS) that can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The objective of this project is three-fold: a) to examine the impact of telecommuting and remote services on travel behavior, travel patterns (commute and non-commute), GHG emissions, and land use in California; b) to develop a methodology to estimate the impacts of telecommuting within an SCS, including data sources and recommendations on the future forecast at the regional level; and c) to develop regional telecommuting metrics to enable MPOs and CARB staff to produce updates to inform the Senate Bill 150 progress report to the Legislature on sustainable communities implementation ("Progress Report"). In addition, the recommendations from this study will inform CARB's policy on evaluating a telecommuting strategy to reduce VMT and GHG emissions under the SB 375 program.
Under the SB 375 program, MPOs are required to develop an SCS, which aligns transportation, housing, and land use planning toward reducing GHG emissions from light-duty travel. The SCS is a long-term planning strategy that prioritizes reducing VMT and increasing the use of sustainable modes of transportation as well as promoting sustainable land use patterns by regional and local agencies. If feasible, MPOs must demonstrate that a combination of land use and transportation strategies will allow the region to meet per-capita GHG emission reduction targets from light-duty travel by 2035.
Telecommuting and remote services have become increasingly popular strategies in the SCS program after the COVID-19 pandemic, which have led to renewed interest in these strategies to create more sustainable communities. For example, with the pandemic forcing many businesses to close their physical offices, employers have had to adapt to a remote workforce, which has resulted in more employees working from home. Furthermore, remote services, such as e-learning, online shopping, and telemedicine, have also gained traction during the pandemic, reducing the need for in-person interactions and travel.
Telecommuting can reduce VMT when employees no longer have to travel to and from work, reducing the number of vehicle trips and driving on the road. Moreover, telecommuting can lessen the need for office space, which can free up land for other purposes, such as public parks or affordable housing, and reduce the need for new infrastructure development. This transformation can contribute to sustainable land use patterns and promote more compact, walkable, and bikeable communities.
However, research has found that there are some rebound effects where the benefits of reduced travel and emissions from telecommuting are offset, in whole or in part, by increased travel in other areas. For example, a person who does not have to travel to the office may drive to the gym during their lunch hour. From another perspective, telecommuting may lead to urban sprawl, as people opt to live farther away from city centers to afford more spacious housing options. This shift can increase the average trip length and demand for personal vehicle usage, neutralizing the positive impact of telecommuting. Research shows that a combination of longer commutes and additional non-work travel during telecommuting days can increase the VMT of telecommuters (Caldarola & Sorrell, 2022).
In addition, as telecommuters stay home, they may increasingly pay for food and supplies to be delivered to them. An increase in light-duty delivery services like door dash and grub hub may induce new vehicle trips and increase SB 375 VMT. Moreover, the exponential growth of e-commerce that is directly linked with the telecommuting trend may also contribute to an increase in last-mile delivery travel, resulting in increased VMT (Mouratidis & Papagiannakis, 2021; PYMNTS, 2022; Shah et al., 2022). In addition, the demand for public transportation has declined with fewer transit commuters, resulting in reduced service options. This reduction disproportionately affects other commuters and communities that rely on public transit options. Overall then, despite the hope that telecommuting and remote services could reduce VMT, in some cases, they may have the counterintuitive result of increasing VMT.
This project is intended to strengthen the empirical foundation that informs the evaluation of SCSs. The existing evidence often focuses only on commute trips. It needs to fully capture the impacts of additional non-commute trips generated and changes in long-term decisions (vehicle ownership and location choices) due to telecommuting. Further, there is a need for a well-established methodology to quantify the full effects of telecommuting given the number of complicated variables involved, such as differences between geographic locations, job sectors, and individual circumstances. Under the SB 375 program, MPOs use different methods to calculate the benefits of various strategies on per-capita GHG emissions, which is context-dependent, and results vary significantly. Therefore, through this study, CARB aims not only to understand the impacts of telecommuting on travel behavior and travel pattern changes, long-term choices such as vehicle ownership, and employment and housing location choices but also to develop a methodology that MPOs and others can use to quantify the impacts appropriately. Further, the methodology will reflect the benefits and disbenefits of telecommuting and other remote services using light-duty vehicles.
III. Scope of Work
This study should examine the impacts of telecommuting and remote services on travel behavior, travel patterns, GHG, and land use and recommend an approach that MPOs and CARB can use to estimate, forecast, and track the impacts of telework to meet the objectives of the SB 375 program.
Task 1 – Literature review
The research team should review prior research, empirical studies, and existing experiences to investigate the potential impacts of telecommuting and remote services on travel behavior, travel patterns, GHG emissions, and changes in long-term choices. Further, the team should document the various methods and variables used for estimating the impacts. In addition, the literature review should include a discussion of these impacts on underserved communities.
Deliverables: The report should summarize the potential impacts of telecommuting and remote services on travel behavior and patterns, GHG emissions, and long-term impacts such as land use and vehicle ownership. This report will also include a review of various methods and data used to estimate GHG emissions.
Task 2 – Identify the impact of telecommuting and remote services in California
The research team should document the current trends and analyze the impact of telecommuting and remote services in California, such as e-learning, telemedicine, and e-shopping. It should highlight how telecommuting and remote services impact people's decision to travel, mode choice, and associated GHG emissions. Further, this task should investigate and analyze the effects on long-term decisions such as vehicle ownership, residential location preferences, and land use change. In addition, this task should examine the rebound effects at the regional and state level due to telecommuting and remote services. This task should conduct qualitative and quantitative analysis to identify the impacts, being careful to isolate the causal effects of telecommuting and remote services separately from COVID-19 impacts.
Deliverables: This task should submit a report documenting current trends of telecommuting and remote services in California, their associated impacts on travel behavior, travel patterns, associated GHG emissions, residential location preferences, and land use change in California.
Task 3 – Develop a methodology to quantify and forecast the impact of telecommuting and remote services at the regional scale for the SB 375 program
The research team should develop quantitative methods to estimate the impact of telecommuting and remote services at a regional scale, which MPOs may use in their SCSs for GHG quantification. MPOs forecast per-capita GHG for target years, including 2035. The task should evaluate the existing approaches, document the pros and cons, and build on the deficiencies to propose new methodologies with clearly defined steps. Further, the methods should accommodate varying regional factors or parameters. The task should also enlist different data sources and data collection techniques to capture critical aspects of telecommuting and remote services. In addition, the research should recommend approaches to forecast telecommuting rates (i.e., the number of telecommuting workers) based on the observed data and existing policies. Further, the methodology should account for the benefits and disbenefits of other remote services (e.g., telehealth, delivery services, e-learning, etc.) in estimating the regional impacts of telecommuting. For example, it should include the rebound effects of delivery services by considering the factors such as the type of services, the location, and the level of adoption by people. Similarly, the benefits of telehealth services should be included by considering the factors of the geographical distribution of patients and healthcare facilities, availability and accessibility of telehealth services, travel distance, and frequency.
Deliverables: This task should deliver a report highlighting the pros and cons of various methods to quantify GHG emissions, rebound effects, and forecasting approaches based on observed data. It should also provide data sources and default values based on the observed data.
Task 4 – Policy recommendation for MPOs to consider in implementing the telecommuting and remote services strategies
Based on the best practices, this task should identify policy recommendations and actions for MPOs to consider adopting as part of their SCS to implement telecommuting and remote service strategies. This task involves reviewing existing policies and regulations related to telecommuting and remote services, identifying action elements required for successful implementation, potential implementation challenges, and policy requirements. In addition, the task should provide specific recommendations for MPOs and other involved parties to improve their practice of implementing these strategies. For example, the policy recommendations for MPOs could relate to technology infrastructure (e.g., broadband), new land use patterns (e.g., mixed-use development), transportation options (e.g., new mobility), workforce development (e.g., training centers), last-mile delivery solutions (e.g., micro-fulfillment centers, locker boxes), and so on.
Deliverables: This task should include a report that outlines the successful implementation of telecommuting and remote services strategies, lessons learned for California, a list of existing programs and regulations, associated challenges, and recommendations for improvement. The report will be developed in consultation with CARB staff.
Task 5 – Identify a set of metrics to monitor telecommuting policy in California
This task involves identifying a set of metrics to monitor telecommuting policies and other remote services in California. The research team should recommend metrics for CARB staff to collect and monitor the implementation progress of telecommuting and their effects in all MPO regions while developing the SB 150 Progress Report. It should include a user manual, template, or format best suited for CARB staff to reproduce metrics annually. The task should also incorporate relevant data sources, data collection techniques, and analysis steps for the MPOs with the possible distinction between general metrics and specific MPO-based metrics. Moreover, it should aid the agency in imparting specific direction to MPOs to meet their goals or standards based on the metrics.
Deliverables: This task should deliver a list of metrics, a user manual, template, or format best suited for developing metrics to be used by CARB staff for developing SB 150 metrics.
The project pre-proposal must address, at minimum, the following deliverables:
At Beginning of Contract
- All researchers must undergo cultural competency training (examples include implicit bias training, racial equity training, etc.). Training should be completed or scheduled within 30 days of contract execution.
- Work with CARB staff at the beginning of the project to create a 1-page plain-language outreach deliverable for the public describing the project's goals, process, and planned deliverables (available in multiple languages, template will be provided).
During Active Contract Period
- An interim report at the end of each task
- Quarterly progress meetings
- Informal monthly progress update meetings with the CARB contract manager
Prior to Contract Close
- Update to report which includes literature review, the estimate of the causal impact of telecommuting and remote services in California, a methodology(s) to quantify the impact of telecommuting and remote services at the regional scale for the SB 375 Program; policy recommendation to implement the telecommuting and remote services strategies; and a set of metrics to monitor telecommuting in California.
- A document illustrating the step-by-step process to quantify GHG emissions and forecasting approaches based on observed data.
- User manual, excel calculator, or another format best suited for CARB staff to reproduce metrics on an annual basis or when updated data are available. This should include telecommuting and remote services metrics at the MPO level developed in consultation with CARB staff by considering data availability and other considerations.
- Presentation summarizing findings (may be public).
- Additional deliverables are to be determined in consultation with CARB staff.
V. Timeline and Budget
This project is anticipated to be completed in 30 months from the start date (the start date is estimated to be in Spring 2024). The estimated budget for this project is up to $600,000.
1. Responsiveness to the goals and objectives outlined in the proposal solicitation (20 points)
The pre-proposal should explain—in adequate detail and clear, understandable language—how the proposed project satisfies the project objectives. This contract should: provide a comprehensive analysis of the impact of telecommuting and remote services on travel behavior, travel patterns, GHG emissions, and land use in California. The project should include a detailed methodology for analyzing the impact, identifying the data sources, and providing recommendations for future forecasts at the regional level. The project should also provide policy recommendations for implementation and identify metrics to enable CARB staff to produce updates to inform the SB 150 Progress Report.
2. Policy relevance/benefits to the state (15 points)
The pre-proposal should explain how the proposed project is relevant to and benefits the state. Reviewers will assess if the pre-proposal describes how the project will provide data, information, and/or products to CARB and how those project outputs will help CARB support ongoing and future efforts to promote VMT and GHG reduction strategies, specifically for priority populations. In addition, this work supports SB 375, SB 150, and general state efforts to address telecommuting and remote services.
3. Work experience and subject matter expertise (20 points)
The pre-proposal should demonstrate that the proposers have the work experience or subject matter expertise required to carry out the proposed project as described successfully. Additionally, the proposal should describe how the project will build upon previous relevant work that CARB and other regional, state, and federal agencies funded. Finally, the proposers should have knowledge of strategies related to telecommuting and remote services and their impacts on transportation, GHG emissions, and land use, strategies for promoting policies that support SB 375, and techniques for examining and improving transportation systems through an equity lens.
4. Expanding expertise (10 points)
The pre-proposal should explain how the project team expands expertise by incorporating multidisciplinary expertise or perspectives, including members from various public universities, non-academic institutions, or community-based organizations, or providing opportunities to build skills and expertise for individuals from underrepresented groups.
5. Explanation of technical or methodological approach (20 points)
The pre-proposal should clearly explain the logic and feasibility of the project's methodology, spell out the sequence and relationships of major tasks, and explain methods for performing the work. The proposal should include a clear description and plan for how each task will be completed. Finally, the proposer should specify why the methodology proposed is the best method to reach the desired objectives.
6. Level and quality of effort and cost-effectiveness (15 points)
The pre-proposal should describe how time and resources will be allocated and demonstrate how this allocation ensures the project's success. Proposal reviewers will evaluate, for example: if the objectives of the project can be met given this allocation, if there is adequate supervision and oversight to ensure that the project will remain on schedule if time and cost are appropriately divvied up across different project tasks and stages.
Caldarola, B., & Sorrell, S. (2022). Do teleworkers travel less? Evidence from the English National Travel Survey. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 159, 282–303. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2022.03.026
Mouratidis, K., & Papagiannakis, A. (2021). COVID-19, internet, and mobility: The rise of telework, telehealth, e-learning, and e-shopping. Sustainable Cities and Society, 74, 103182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2021.103182
PYMNTS. (2022). How The World Does Digital—December 2022 | PYMNTS.com. https://www.pymnts.com/study/how-the-world-does-digital-transformation-…
Shah, H., Carrel, A. L., & Le, H. T. K. (2022). Impacts of teleworking and online shopping on travel: A tour-based analysis. Transportation. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11116-022-10321-9
 Travel behavior refers to the choices and actions of individuals or groups, such as the modes of transportation they use, the frequency and duration of their trips, the purposes of their trips, and the routes they take.
 Travel pattern includes factors such as the average number of trips taken per person per day, VMT, the peak times and locations of travel, the most common modes of transportation used, and the distribution of trip purposes.
 Rebound effect refers to activities (in-home chores) or non-work related travel that would not have happened if they were commuting.