Study's conclusions could push telecommuting

Despite the growing popularity of telecommuting, regular commuting continues to grow, with a new class of worker - the extreme commuter - traveling more than 90 minutes to get to work.

Concentrated in sprawling urban centers, these people may drive to work or they may take public transportation, a factor that could help determine their extreme status, according to "Commuting in America III," a study written by the Transportation Research Board (TRB).

Commuters who take public trains and buses wind up with trips to work that take twice as long as it takes someone who drives, the study says.

The average time it takes to get to work has been accelerating, TRB says. In 1980, the average travel time nationwide was 21.7 minutes. That grew to 22.4 minutes in 1990, but shot to 25.5 in 2000. These averages were driven up by the large number of commuters in New York, where more than 10 percent of commuters traveled for an hour or more to work.

Other states with more than 10 percent of commuters traveling an hour or more to work are New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois. California just missed this percentage.

Meanwhile, the ranks of telecommuters have risen dramatically since 1990, according to the Telework Coalition. In 1990, about 4 million people telecommuted at least once per year. That number has grown to about 45 million today, says Chuck Wilsker, president and CEO of the Telework Coalition.

If the definition of telecommuting is revised to working from home at least one day per month, the number is about 24 million, according to a 2004 study of consumers by The Derringer Research Group. Of those, 16.5 million are self-employed, which arguably makes them something other than telecommuters, because there is no alternative site to which they could travel. Even so, that number represents about a fifth of the workforce.

The same study says the number of teleworkers supported by broadband connections leaped from 4.4 million in 2003 to 8.1 million in 2004.

The growing travel times for physical commuting may encourage more businesses to offer telecommuting options if workers consider time traveling to work as wasted. A survey of 1,400 CFOs said offering telecommuting as an option was the second best way to attract top job talent. The best way was offering more money.

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