To Commute or Not to Commute? Impacts on Commuting of Land Use, Housing Costs, and COVID-19

*PhD Defense*
05/25/2023 9:00 AM (PDT)
A Hybrid Event: Virtual and In-person at 4080 AIRB, UCI.
Md Rabiul Islam
Md Rabiul Islam

Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, two chronic problems affecting Californians are high housing costs and road congestion. Although high housing costs and the determinants of commuting have separately received a lot of attention from academic researchers, to my knowledge very few papers have analyzed the linkage between them. In this dissertation, I present three essays that will enhance our understanding on the relationship between commuting, land use, housing costs, and the impact of COVID-19 on telecommuting. In all three essays, I use Structural Equation Model (SEM).

In my first essay, I propose a framework for understanding the impact of housing costs on commuting time and commuting distance in one worker-households in Los Angeles County, which is the most populous county in the US. After analyzing data from the 2012 California Household Travel Survey (CHTS), I find that households who can afford more expensive neighborhoods have on average a commute 3.1% shorter per additional $100k to their residence median home values.

In my second essay, I analyze the commutes of two-worker households to understand some of the trade-offs they need to make, since two-worker households have dual work constraints. My data for this essay come from 2017 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) respondents who reside in five U.S. MSAs (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta). Results show that women do not commute as far as men on average, although their commuting time is not necessarily shorter than men’s, and that the commuting times of men and women are weakly positively correlated. Moreover, households have faster commutes by 14.5% for men and 22.7% for women per additional $1000 to their residence median monthly housing cost.

My third essay investigates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on telecommuting by analyzing a unique dataset collected at the end of May 2021 by IPSOS via a random survey of California members of KnowledgePanel®. I find that an additional 4.2% of California workers would engage in some level of telecommuting and more educated workers are expecting to telecommute more (0.383* for bachelor’s degree) post-pandemic.

Teasing out the impact of high housing costs on commuting is important at a time when concerns about the environmental impacts of transportation have turned reducing vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) into a policy priority. More generally, a better understanding of the determinants of commuting is critical to inform housing and transportation policy, improve the health of commuters, reduce air pollution, and achieve climate goals.