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Residential Area-Based Offices Project: Final Report on the Evaluation of Impacts


Research Report

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Suggested Citation:
Mokhtarian, Patricia L., Chaang-Iuan Ho, Shun W. Hung, Toan B. Lam, Elizabeth A. Raney, Lothlorien S. Redmond, David M. Stanek, Krishna V. Varma (1997) Residential Area-Based Offices Project: Final Report on the Evaluation of Impacts. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-97-17

The Residential Area-Based Offices (RABO) Project, sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and the California Department of Transportation, was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of telecommuting centers as an institutional work arrangement and as a transportation demand management strategy. The program, operated by the University of California, Davis, established a total of 16 telecenters, and evaluation data were collected from an additional 5 centers from outside the project. In this volume, the impacts of these telecenters on work performance, job satisfaction, and travel behavior are evaluated using data from four survey instruments: an attitudinal survey, a travel diary, an attendance log, and an exit interview. Data collected through June 1996 are included in the final report. A companion volume, Residential Area-Based Offices Project: Project Overview and Telecenter Operations, describes results from the implementation and operation of telecenters in the RABO Project.

Despite efforts to locate centers close to residential areas in order to make walking and biking more attractive, most commuting to the telecommuting centers took place by driving alone. Interestingly, there was a small, but significant, increase in the number of commute trips apparently largely due to telecommuters returning to the center after a trip home for lunch. Most importantly, the number of vehicle-miles of travel decreased by an average of more than 53% for telecenter users on telecommuting days while the total number of trips remained relatively constant. This resulted in reductions of 15% for total organic gas emissions, 21% for carbon monoxide, 35% for nitrogen oxides, and 51% for particulate matter. When the average reduction in VMT is weighted by the average frequency of telecommuting, there is a reduction of more than 11.5% in average weekday VMT compared with the no-telecommuting alternative.

As of June 30, 1996, the sites established under the RABO Project had been open an average of 1.3 years, with a minimum operation of 3.8 months and a maximum of 2.7 years. Average site occupancies ranged between 10 and 20% of available workspace days. The average telecommuting frequency was 28.2% (or 1.4 days per week) at RABO sites, compared to 17.3% (less than one day a week) at the non-RABO sites.

On the organizational side, 79% of the managers of telecenter users rated their level of satisfaction with telecommuting centers as high or very high. A selection bias in these results must be noted, as managers who were dissatisfied with telecommuting would be less likely to remain in the program long enough to complete an after survey. However, the exit interviews from managers indicated that even those managers whose employees quit telecommuting had a high or very high satisfaction with center-based telecommuting (66%). The perceived advantages of telecommuting (customer service and productivity) are difficult to quantify, while other more easily quantifiable factors (office space and parking costs) were not perceived to be advantages. While nearly half (48%) of the manager respondents indicated that their organization was likely to offer center-based telecommuting to its staff, more than a third cited lowering the cost, being able to quantify the benefits, and increased manager acceptance as factors that needed to change before center-based telecommuting was likely to be offered.

Overall, the employee experience with telecommuting centers has been positive. Employee reactions to center-based telecommuting have been favorable, and no adverse impacts on productivity and job satisfaction were measured. There may be a selection bias in these results as these data were obtained only for employees remaining in the program. Attrition at the telecenters was high: half of the telecenter users quit within nine months. Primary reasons for leaving relate to changes in job circumstances and supervisor desires rather than to employee dissatisfaction with telecommuting centers.

In summary, while transportation, air quality, and other impacts are unequivocally positive for those who telecommute as long as they are telecommuting, concerns remain about high attrition among telecenter users and about the perceived cost-effectiveness of center-based telecommuting to organizations and their management.