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 travel-telecommunications interactions.

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.

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.

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 study.

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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
Physical Proximity
Expansion of Relationships
Geographic Dispersal
Economic Restructuring
Telecommunications as a Force for Improving Transport

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