Telework and Traffic Trends: Experts Brief House Subcommittee

Today, the Transportation and the Environment Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee heard testimony from several groups on the impacts increased teleworking has had on traffic mitigation and pollution reduction.

Panels of experts from several state agencies, the University of Maryland, and regional transportation boards presented data and lessons learned from the increased use of teleworking and the positive impacts it has had on traffic congestion. Presenters included: Transportation Secretary Greg Slater, Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles, Maryland Transportation Institute at the University of Maryland Director Dr. Lei Zhang, National Capital Regional Transportation Planning Board Chair Kelly Russell, and Baltimore Regional Transportation Board Chair Lynda Eisenberg.

Secretary Slater gave an overview of agency actions during the pandemic and transportation sector trends in the region, including a decrease in total volume of car traffic. The Department recognized an increase in truck traffic as people engaged in more online shopping. Total traffic volumes declined sharply in April as people transitioned to telework, and have recently began to trend upwards.

Secretary Grumbles described the pandemic’s impact on air quality resulting from a decrease in transportation activity. He stressed the importance of both teleworking and electrification as meaningful ways to reduce emissions going forward. He stated that about 80 percent of his Department is teleworking.

Dr. Lei Zhang provided statistical analysis of traffic trends and presented model scenarios for potential sustained reductions in traffic. He described how traffic volumes are now reaching 80-85 percent of pre-pandemic levels. He stated that even though traffic volume has began to increase again, the fifteen percent reduction (when compared to this time last year) has been enough to virtually eliminate almost all traffic bottlenecks in the region.

Kelly Russell described pandemic traffic and telework trend impacts on the National Capital Region, and described how the Regional Transportation Planning Board is calling for a comprehensive approach to reducing vehicle miles traveled including alternative work schedules, diverting trips to the edge of peak hours, and carpooling for a variety of daily trips, not just work related.

Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) Chair and Director of the Carroll County Department of Planning, Lynda Eisenberg presented trends for teleworking and travel in the Baltimore region. BRTB estimates that roughly 41 percent of jobs in the region are eligible for telework. Pre-pandemic roughly 5 percent were teleworking.

Common among several presentations was an acknowledgement that individuals are changing the amount of vehicle miles traveled as well as the times that they travel. The morning peak travel period is longer in some areas and congestion is returning in the afternoon. This is likely due to changing habits: individuals changing their work hours, and therefore their work commute and errand travel timing. Several panelist spoke about the importance of engaging the private sector in promoting teleworking.

The meeting was streamed live, and a recording may be found on YouTube.

View the meeting agenda.