Telecommuting and the environment

Modern cities are trying to become greener. One of the major contributors to pollution from cities is transport.

Toll roads – the only way to reduced congestion in cities?



In Norway, there are three main strategies to change people’s behaviors in this respect:

  1. Toll roads into and out of all cities to make it more expensive to drive your own car, in addition to high environmental taxes on buying new cars and on fossil fuel (gasoline costs about NOK 15 per liter, which is equivalent to about US $7/gal.
  2. Subsidized public transport (buses, trains, etc.). Buses in urban areas are modern, run on biofuels, run about every 10 minutes in dense areas, and a bus card valid for one month costs about NOK 700.
  3. Electric cars are not subject to heavy taxation, and they get a free pass on the toll roads. A Model S from Tesla thus costs about the same as a much smaller fossil fuel car from non-premium brands.

In spite of these efforts, traffic is increasing. Primarily, due to a lot of people buying electric cars. The problem is, it still creates congestion. And parking is hard to find. So what do politicians suggest to fix the problem? Primarily two things in Trondheim where I live: make parking even more scarce, and increase toll road prices by at least 50%. I suppose that may work, but is it the only option?

Norway has a skilled workforce. A lot of people work in offices with computers, and there is really limited need to actually be in that office to get your stuff done. I think telecommuting could help reduce congestion, and help the environment in one easy whiff. This, however, requires a lot of companies to change the way they approach collaboration, mangement, and use of technology. A social network can not fully replace coffe machine chit-chat, but it helps (use Yammer, closed Facebook groups,  etc.). Use productivity software that allows online collaboration – most office programs allow this today (Microsoft Office and Google Apps perhaps being the biggest players). Managers should also empower their employees to take more decisions than they do in practice today – in many companies the hierarchy is still king – and that does not play well with a semi-virtual workforce. So – what would happen if 50% of commuters would work from home 2 days per week? If we take 1000 commuters as basis for our argument, we know that about 50% drive a car, the rest will use a bicycle, walk or use public transport. Further, we can assume that people will chose random days to work from home, so about the same number of people will work from home every day. Then we are down to about 250 cars per day (on average). This may of course be a bit optimistic, but making people telecommute part of their work weeks can have huge impact on pollution and congestion. Therefore politicians should try to give incentives to both companies and indivduals if they actually choose to implement such a policy:

  • Reduce tax burdon on employer (e.g. by introducing a pro forma deductible per telecommuter)
  • Make broadband connections tax deductible for people who choose to telecommute

So, today I choose to work from the home office.

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