There has been a lot of jawboning by government officials when it comes to telework as a green transportation alternative.
While federally-funded programs insist that applicants examine no-build options like transportation demand management solutions like telework, the nasty truth is that these are ignored. Why let imaginative, doable lower-cost methods get in the way of shoveling tax dollars to campaign-contributing contractors and engineering firms?
There may now, however, be at last interest and movement in getting governments to do the right thing thanks to large part to broadband becoming a necessity in homes and businesses. Hence its inclusion in the stimulus legislation.
Expanding broadband networks means money for their supplying carriers and equipment vendors. And they are at last emerging as political counterweights to the powerful transportation lobby. Just as highways and transit people talk about freeing congestion, the broadband talk is about connecting America, and increasingly about enabling greener interactions at the speed of light.
As reported by TMC last week, there are new House and Senate bills that for the first time link transportation and broadband policies. H.2428, The Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2009 and a companion Senate bill, S. 1266 of the same name, would require states to install broadband conduit in new or expanded federally-funded highways. H. 2428 is sponsored by Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and Edward Markey (D-Mass.). Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), and Mark Warner (R-Va.) put the Senate bill forward.
New York attorney Nicole Belson Goluboff thinks it's about time. She writes extensively on the legal consequences of telework. She is also an advisory board member of The Telework Coalition (TelCoA), a telework educational and advocacy organization.
In a recent article published in New Geography Goluboff called upon lawmakers to introduce and pass legislation tying telework incentives to federal highway and transit infrastructure money. She also asked Congress to provide telework tax incentives for employees and employers; eliminate tax, zoning and other laws that are hostile to telework; and offer public and private sector employers technical help in developing and implementing robust telework programs.
Goluboff reports there is lawmaker interest in encouraging telework. She reported that 12 House members wrote to both the House Transportation Committee and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, requesting that they consider including some pro-commuter reforms as they design the nation's new transportation and energy laws. Among their requests were initiatives to incentivize telecommuting.
There is also another benefit of telework versus old-fashioned transportation: results. A new light rail line in Seattle, Washington that opened last weekend was 40+ years in the planning, including political ups and downs much like the city's notorious steeper-than-San Francisco's terrain (Seattle had cable cars until 1941). A company can institute a telework program that can pull their employees' cars off the roads, buses, and trains in three to six months.
This isn't to say there is no longer any need for new highways or rail transit lines says other telework advocates. There will always be the need for in-person work and interactions that create travel demand. Executed right with an emphasis on full-time at home, telework results in fewer trips, requiring less taxpayer-subsidized investments e.g. arterials not freeways, diesel or electric regional rail on existing railroad tracks instead of separate light or heavy rail lines, and ferries in coastal areas than land-based modes.
"'When Congress finalizes its new transportation policy, it must exploit the tremendous mileage it can get from encouraging web-based travel,'" wrote Goluboff. "'Conditioning funding to state and local governments on investment by those governments in pro-telework measures - and offering meaningful federal funding to promote telecommuting - is a dual strategy that would yield a greener and leaner transportation system. '"