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


Research Report

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Suggested Citation:
Mokhtarian, Patricia L., Prashant N. Balepur, Michelle Derr, Chaang-Iuan Ho, David M. Stanek, Krishna V. Varma (1996) Residential Area-Based Offices Project: Interim Findings Report on the Evaluation of Impacts. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-96-11

The Residential Area-Based Offices (RABO) Project, sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and the California Department of Transportation, is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of telecommuting centers as an institutional work arrangement and as a transportation demand management strategy. The program has established a total of 15 telecenters, and evaluation data were collected from an additional 5 centers. In this volume, the impacts of these telecenters on work performance, job satisfaction, and travel behavior are evaluated. Four survey instruments were used to capture telecommuter behavior: an attitudinal survey, a travel diary, an attendance log, and an exit interview. Data collected through June 1995 were included in the analysis; data from an additional year of operation will be incorporated in a final report.

Despite efforts to locate centers close to residential areas in order to make walking and biking more attractive, most commuting to the telecommuting center 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 person-miles of travel decreased by an average of more than 74% for telecenter users on telecommuting days while the total number of trips remained constant. When this average is weighted by the average frequency of telecommuting, an average reduction of 19.2% in total weekday travel was found. However, it must be noted that the telecenter users lived much farther from work than non-telecommuting control group members (with average daily travel of 91 vs. 48 miles). So while telecommuters traveled less than non-telecommuters on telecommuting days, the telecommuters still traveled more in the aggregate (telecommuting and non-telecommuting days combined).

The sites established under the RABO Project had been open for between 2.5 and 20 months through June 1995. Average site occupancies ranged between 10 and 20% of available workspace days. The average telecommuting frequency was 25% (or 1 in 4 days per week) at these sites, compared to 17% at the non-RABO sites.

On the organizational side, 82% of the managers of telecenter users rated their level of satisfaction with telecommuting centers as high or very high. However a selection bias must be noted since managers who were dissatisfied were less likely to remain in the program long enough to complete the survey on which this result is derived. 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 39% of the manager respondents indicated that their organization was likely to offer center-based telecommuting to its staff, an equal proportion 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.

The employee experience with telecommuting centers has been positive. Although no adverse impacts on productivity and job satisfaction have been found, a selection bias is also present here since the attitudinal 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 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.
Prepared for the Federal Highway Administration and the California Department of Transportation Office of Traffic Improvement.