Surface travel volume is made up of vehicle trips. Telecommunications volume is
made up of electronic and optical information flows. Conventional wisdom holds
that telecommunications is a force for reducing travel by moving information
electromagnetically over cables and through the air instead of moving people
and paper in vehicles. A main conclusion of this report is that this view is
overly simplistic and contrary to observations from everyday life.
The usual methodology of studies supporting the travel substitution hypothesis
is to define a limited set of telecommunications applications that indeed
reduce travel, such as telecommuting. The studies then measure or assume the
average result of a single substitution event, such as a day spent at home as a
telecommuter or participation in a single teleconference. The travel
substitution impact of a reasonably larger number of such events is then
extrapolated by summing the effects of these individual events. The limitation
of this methodology is that narrowing the focus to one class of event does not
take into account the many other related telecommunications events and effects
that stimulate trip making.
The following lists of trip elimination and trip stimulation mechanisms of
telecommunications illustrate the complexity inherent in
The trip elimination effects of telecommunications tend to operate at the
"micro" level of individual transactions and events.
The trip generation mechanisms of
telecommunications tend to operate at the long-term, "macro"-level of
socioeconomic pattern changes.
- Telecommunications allows workers who would normally commute from home to
a work location to telecommute from home or from a location closer to home.
- Telecommunications allows information to be sent in electronic form rather
than in physical "document" form.
- Telecommunications enables humans to communicate remotely rather than
travel to common meeting locations.
- Telecommunications allows sporting, entertainment, political, religious,
and other events to be broadcast to a dispersed audience instead of having the
audience travel to the event.
- Telecommunications enables observations from dispersed sites to be
collected and transmitted to a central point via remote sensing rather than by
a human observer.
- Telecommunications enables the potential traveler to lay the foundation
for more productive travel through remote negotiation, fact finding, or
troubleshooting that sometimes makes a trip unnecessary. This communication
replaces unconditional travel in anticipation of a need that has only a
possibility of arising.
- Telecommunications allows consumers to make purchases without traveling to
store locations. This permits the movement of goods to bypass the
transportation-intensive process of wholesale and retail distribution.
- Teleconferencing, computer networks, electronic document flows, and remote
sensing let organizational managers disperse and rearrange work sites in a way
that can potentially reduce transportation of employees, customers, raw
materials, or products. Still, net travel reduction is not necessarily a goal
of management decisions to implement new teleservice and telework applications.
Pursuing other goals, such as gaining market share or improving quality, may
work to increase net trip making.
- Telecommunications allows service transactions and events to be carried
out in ways that require no travel or less travel. Such transactions include
using payroll direct deposits instead of taking paychecks to the bank, filing
income tax returns electronically rather than mailing them, and going to
neighborhood electronic kiosks rather than traveling downtown.
- Telecommunications leads to some household activity patterns that consume
lower levels of transportation than the alternatives. In other words,
interactive computer services and greater numbers of television channels in
homes may make staying home in the evening more attractive than going out.
- Telecommunications allows automobile travelers to coordinate their
journeys and share rides rather than travel in separate vehicles, thus reducing
the number of vehicles on the road.
As these lists show, the availability and use of
telecommunications eliminates trips and causes trips at the same time. The key
question remains, "Is the availability and use of telecommunications a net
generator or net eliminator of vehicle trips?" Given the two lists, the answer
is inherently difficult to determine.
- Telecommunications makes people aware of additional general-audience
events and opportunities that are reached through travel, such as political
rallies, professional conferences, entertainment events, and shopping
- Telecommunications causes economic growth, productivity improvement, and
income growth at the individual, organizational, and societal levels. Extensive
databases and powerful computer-based econometric techniques have recently
allowed this causation to begin to be empirically demonstrated, as described
- As the economy grows, telecommunications expands the number and geographic
scope of economic and social relationships in which people and organizations
engage. Electronic mail and toll-free telephone numbers are examples of
relationship-expanding communications technologies that allow more rapid and
farther reaching transactions and interactions. These relationships sometimes
generate travel in addition to telecommunications volume. Such relationships
include selling, buying, servicing, employment, memberships, friendships, and
- Telecommunications permits geographic decentralization of residential
settlement and of organizational activity locations. Decentralization leads to
higher travel consumption, because trip origins and destinations tend to be
- New telecommunications functionality resulting from digital switching and
fiber optics supports the urbanization of rural communities together with
associated growth in economic activity. This pattern typically causes more
local automobile traffic and a flow of visitors using transportation from
- Telecommunications speeds up the pace of economic activity. The same idea
is expressed by business consultants in the phrase "time-based competition."
The acceleration of commerce tends to generate customized, single-purpose trips
that leave immediately and go by the fastest means. The quickest modes of
door-to-door surface transportation in most metropolitan areas are
single-occupancy vehicles and small trucks. These modes generate more traffic
congestion than moving the same volumes in mass transit vehicles and large
- Telecommunications enables rapid response systems that dispatch customized
vehicles to meet personal and organizational needs. Several examples of this
are just-in-time logistics, home delivery of fast food, overnight package
delivery, and temporary employment services.
- Telecommunications enables a wide variety of new last-minute information
flows that generate personal travel through attractive invitations and
compulsory orders to attend.
- Telecommunications makes travel time more productive and more feasible for
travelers. Use of wireless mobile phones while traveling is the leading
example. Wireless data communication between office computer networks and
portable personal computers is a new capability being deployed to improve the
productivity of business travelers.
- Telecommunications makes the transportation system work more effectively
and efficiently. Examples of this are air traffic control, computerized airline
reservation systems, and intelligent vehicle highway systems (IVHS, also called
The definitive answer, a history that includes the growth of telecommuting and
trip making over the past ten years, can only come from a statistical analysis
of comprehensive economic data at the level of the entire economy. Such a
follow-up research examination is the most important recommendation of this
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Comparing Telecommunications and Transportation
Substitution of Telecommunications for Transport
Is Overall Travel Substitution Occurring?
Model of Interactions Between Telecommunications and Transport
Expansion of Relationships
Telecommunications as a Force for Improving Transport