What impact will use of
the new information and communications technologies (ICT) have on
travel and on the movement of goods?
This question is of great interest to the UK
Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR). If
people can carry out activities online that previously required (or
otherwise would require) a journey, then there is a transport impact.
So far, however, the Department has not undertaken much research in
Lack of research, however, does not indicate a lack of
interest on the part of the UK government. Teleworking is actively
promoted by the DTLR and the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI)
as a means to reduce work-related travel.
Ecommerce is promoted by the DTI, whatever the travel effects, as
being good for UK business and competitiveness. E-government, and
online delivery of public services are also promoted across the board
by government departments.
To some extent, then, policy has been running ahead of
research and analysis of the very complex relationship between
ICT-based activities and transport. To address these issues the DTLR
commissioned an extensive literature review to pull together research
findings from across the world, to begin the process of building a
knowledge base in this field in the UK, and to underpin any future
research and policy development.
The research was carried out by
HOP Associates and
Transportation Research Group at the University of Southampton.
Essentially the research:
evaluated studies that look at the transport impacts of
teleworking, e-commerce and other online services
took a rigorous and structured approach to evaluation,
looking at how robust the data is in each study, what assumptions are
being made, value of the methodology, etc
evaluated the relevance and transferability of the methods used into
the current UK context
assessed the findings on special topics such as
the substitution/generation debate
spatial implications (e.g. the potential for urban
effects on public transport
relationship of research into virtual mobility to
research into other non-car modes of transport
implications for transport modelling
made recommendations for the direction of future
As might to some extent be expected, the research was
a mixture of the positive and the agnostic.
In summary, the literature review concluded that:
there is a considerable weight of evidence that two
forms of teleworking, home-based and centre-based, do have a
significant travel reduction effect
other forms of teleworking (e.g. mobile) have not been
sufficiently studied to draw firm conclusions
there is almost no robust data to support the
conjecture that these (or other) forms of telework generate
significant amounts of other travel
there is no robust data to support the conjecture that
telework contributes to urban sprawl or decisions by teleworkers to
move further away from the workplace
there is a great deal of theorising about the effects
of ecommerce - but there are almost no studies that use data beyond
extrapolation from figures of current supermarket visits
many opportunities are being missed to measure the
transport impacts of new ecommerce and e-services projects.
In many respects, it is too early to say what the
effects will be. The "positive" conclusion is that telecommuting -
using new ways of working to replace commute travel - clearly
contributes to travel reduction, even when other trips by the
telecommuter and household members are taken into account.
One interesting, and possibly controversial finding,
is that there is no strong evidence for wider knock-on traffic
generating effects. This could be that the data is simply lacking.
However, it seems in the literature that a body of (mostly US) experts
have concluded in the "substitution/complementarity debate" that
Nevertheless, however plausible the conjecture about
complementarity (or new trip generation), it remains conjecture. A lot
seems to be owed to what one commentator calls the "snowball citation
method" - one author cites another and it snowballs down the
literature until it acquires an apparent authority. But figures
factored in for "longer trips due to urban sprawl", for example, date
back to very rough guesstimates in a 1993 study by the US Department
From a transport analysts or policy-maker's point of
view, the substitution versus generation issue is also an
over-simplification of the issue. It is the changes of travel patterns
- whether it's an increase in trips, a decrease or a redistribution of
them, that are important.
There is much research to be done. But in the
meantime, individuals, organisations and policy-makers should feel
confident that there is value in using telework to reduce travel.
See the conclusions in
Does working online reduce the need to
What about ecommerce - does it increase or
reduce travel and freight movements?
And what about electronic delivery of
services: entertainment services, telemedicine, e-government
and the like?
We report the findings of a global
literature review commissioned by the UK government, which
will help them to decide the direction of future policy and
For further information, see the project
The full title of the project is The Impact
of Information and Communications Technologies on Travel and
Freight Distribution Patterns: Review and Assessment of