As a matter of resultant outcome rather than initial intent, telecommunications frequently substitutes for transportation. People working in government, business, and other sectors can and do take actions to implement teleprocesses that yield substitutions of telecommunications for transportation. Yet, these teleprocesses typically do not start with the goal of reducing transportation use.
Travel elimination is a small part of the reason for increasing telecommunications intensity in government, health care, K-12 education, and manufacturing. Organizations adopt telecommunications to improve the quality of service they provide their customers, to reduce the cost of activities, or to make themselves more effective. They may do so for one reason and then find others to be more important.
For example, a bank might provide automatic teller machines to reduce the cost of hiring more tellers, find that its customers like the convenience of withdrawing money at any hour of the day, and subsequently find that customers have become accustomed to the service and resist paying fees if the cost of the service later increases. Moreover, because one bank provides the service, others find it necessary to do so in order to compete. Transportation has nothing to do with the banks' decisions. Similarly, a government agency may decide to reengineer the way it handles documents, using optical character recognition to scan them, store them electronically, and move them more efficiently, in order to reduce its administrative costs or to improve the quality of service to its clients.
In many cases, telematics is used to enable activities that would not otherwise occur. For example, the use of live educational television broadcasts and telephone links between students and broadcast studios makes it possible for small schools that cannot afford to hire teachers in all subject areas to offer a wider curriculum. Students could travel to another school for the course but probably would not do so for just one course. The choice is then between receiving instruction in a manner different from face-to-face interaction with a teacher and not receiving the instruction at all. Distance is indeed a factor in the decision to offer the course or to take it. The school and students, however, probably do not look at the decision as one of saving transportation but as one of having the course available.
Reducing transportation is sometimes the reason for a new teleprocess. A trucking company installing a vehicle location tracking system, then giving truck drivers wireless devices for receiving new dispatching orders, is a teleprocess that probably includes travel reduction as a goal.
Videoconferencing is sometimes justified on the basis of travel reductions. Exhibit 2-1 shows cost savings from specific cases of agency use in Washington State government.
Establishment of a telecommuting program may have travel reduction as an explicit goal, but it need not. An organization may seek other goals through telecommuting. A company that eliminates permanent offices for its sales force, equips each with a portable computer and telecommunications equipment, and raises the quota of daily sales calls in the field may very well increase the daily automobile mileage per worker while increasing its telecommunications use.
Peter Keen (1988) outlines in his book Competing in Time the various motivations for companies to set up new voice, data, and video telecommunications applications. These are shown in Exhibit 2-2. Transportation reduction is not on this list as a prime motivation, but it could be one result of implementing a new application.
In general, organizations seek to achieve their production and service delivery missions by using facility, equipment, transportation, and telecommunications resources. These deployments yield new spatial, activity, and mobility patterns as a byproduct. Over time, these patterns include many ways in which telecommunications permits new methods of doing things that would formerly have required a trip.