Working at Home would Ease Traffic Woes

Employers can help clear road congestion


Discussions late in 2013 about a transportation referendum in Metro Vancouver dominated the agenda for municipalities. In spite of the sabre-rattling between various levels of government, there was little research conducted on how commuters currently feel about the roads and services they rely on.

An Insights West survey conducted on behalf of Vancity this month explored the openness of commuters to altering their weekday behaviour, provided their employers gave them an incentive. The first step was to figure out whether people are enjoying their trips to work and back.

Across Metro Vancouver, 28 per cent of residents who work on weekdays say their commute is worse now than it was five years ago, and 41 per cent describe is as “annoying.”

The annoyances of a weekday commute for those behind the wheel are not surprising, with traffic (87 per cent) and dealing with bad drivers (78 per cent) at the top of the list, and parking a distant third (25 per cent). Transit riders have misgivings about the system, with an overwhelming 92 per cent complaining about overcrowded vehicles, and 77 per cent saying that waiting for transit vehicles is a hassle.

So faced with these numbers, what can businesses do to help ease the pain of dejected weekday commuters? The first solution is simple: letting workers stay at home at least once a week. Three of four Metro Vancouverites (74 per cent) say they would take advantage of this incentive, including 70 per cent of drivers and 83 per cent of transit riders.

Depending on our line of work, the office can follow us everywhere. We take laptops home, check email on smartphones and deal with calls on evenings and weekends. Companies could consider allowing certain employees to work from home, provided the right communications tools are at their disposal.

Transit riders were thrilled with the idea of their employers covering the cost of their transit passes (93 per cent would take advantage of this offer). However, the captivating finding deals with drivers, as half of them said they would leave their cars at home if they had a monetary incentive to ride transit more often. This could mean a drastic reduction to the number of cars on the road on an average weekday. However, judging by the reviews of the system users who are annoyed, adding more riders without more vehicles would not be pretty.

Cycling to work is another option for those ready to leave the car behind, and looking for an alternative to over-crowded buses. In this option, incentives would pay off remarkably, with more than half of same-city commuters saying they would bike more if their office had showers and lockers, and if their employer offered to finance the purchase and repairs of a bicycle.

For all of the misguided commentary they have generated, bike lanes have been consistently supported in Metro Vancouver (61 per cent when Insights West checked last summer). On a quantitative basis, biking remains one of the least favoured modes of transportation. But qualitatively, the proportion of weekday bike riders who describe their commute as “pleasant” reaches 94 per cent, well ahead of the numbers posted by drivers and transit riders.

The research shows businesses can definitely play a role in making the weekday commute easier for their employees. Whether the commitment is for lower greenhouse gas emissions or a happier, more engaged workforce, Metro Vancouver’s residents are ready to change their behaviour. All they need is a push.

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Photograph: Ian Muttoo