How Will Remote Work Impact Rush Hour Traffic Long-Term?

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The COVID-19 pandemic may have lasting effects on transportation and commuting. Many people switched to fully remote jobs, and employers implemented more work-from-home options. This led to fewer people driving and eliminated rush hour traffic temporarily.
This might have been a good reason for some people to switch to pay-as-you-go car insurance to save money. That’s one of many benefits as more companies accommodate for remote work.
Uncongested roads might not last, but the increase of telework will impact the future of transportation and infrastructure planning.
Pedestrians cross in front of a row of stopped traffic in New York City at sunset.
Rush hour is one of the commuters’ worst nightmares

The shift to working from home

For a year, many people worked from home and stopped commuting. Rush hour vanished during much of the pandemic.
We depended on delivery services for everything from our groceries to appliances. Society suddenly shifted to purchasing everything online and shipping companies became overwhelmed with orders.
PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a survey in June 2020 and found that 77% of office employees were still working from home at least one day per week. About 55% of employers expected this to rise post-pandemic.

Small changes can improve commuting

Now that more people have received vaccinations, many of us returned to work in person. According to the New York Times, traffic has mostly returned to pre-pandemic levels in some cities. However, around Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, there has been a noticeable drop in peak morning traffic.
The New York Times said that "the pandemic doesn’t have to radically change the future of work to make the decades-old problem of the peak commute perceptibly less miserable; a modest number of people working from home on a Thursday might do it."

The stigma around telework has mostly disappeared

The New York Times found that in the U.S., about a third of workers can do their jobs remotely. Even if most of them worked from home only one day a week, this can be helpful to reduce road congestion.
But, people often shift back to old routines. Seeing an uncongested highway might influence you to drive to work five days a week again; this will start to fill the roads back up. But things might be different because of how long we’ve had to adapt to new routines.
Even if commuters return to pre-pandemic behaviors, most of the stigma surrounding remote work has disappeared. Employers have invested in more technology to enable remote work. The increase of telework and new routines that come out of the pandemic will help drive new investments in transportation and infrastructure.
For example, commuters with essential jobs that have odd hours rely on the transit system and shouldn’t have to wait an hour for a bus. So in 2019, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority planned improvements for off-peak service that were being rolled out in June.

The long-term impact of remote work on transportation

Teleworkers won’t just vanish from transportation networks, as reported by the New York Times. People may move farther out to the suburbs and take fewer but longer commutes. This might create demand for more suburban amenities.
The shift to remote work might not have as obvious an impact on traffic as you think. Rush hour traffic might improve, but it likely won’t disappear. But, if more people are able to take even a day off, the commuting experience can improve.
One of the biggest impacts of telework being more welcomed is how it’ll change the way people travel. It won’t eliminate traffic, but it’ll introduce new patterns of travel that city planners and transportation agencies can use to choose which projects to invest in.
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