Preserving Sustainability Gains of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Case Study of MIT Campus Commuting

Ronan Doorley

Berke, A., Doorley, R., Alfonso, L., & Larson, K. (2022). Preserving Sustainability Gains of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Case Study of MIT Campus Commuting. Transportation Research Record.


COVID-19 profoundly impacted how communities live, work, and commute. In particular, reductions in commutes caused reductions in commuter-related emissions. The pandemic also prompted businesses and institutions to consider longer-term adjustments, including work-from-home policies that continue beyond pandemic protocols. If properly evaluated and implemented, these policies may have long-term beneficial impacts in reducing commuter-related emissions.

This work presents a case study of the MIT campus community, using data from a pre-pandemic transportation survey with responses from approximately 50% of the community, as well as data on the academic groups and home locations for the broader population. These data are used to estimate car commuter miles by various academic groups and model and evaluate interventions in terms of reducing car commuter miles. The interventions include staff work-from-home policies, changes that increase use of alternative transit, and improving access to housing.

The analysis uses differences in how groups commute to inform potential interventions. For example, there is an estimated 16% reduction in car commuter miles if staff work from home 1 day/week on average (excluding service staff whose work is on-site), and the same estimated reduction can be achieved if just one staff group that is well suited to work from home is allowed to do so 2 days/week.

This analysis is intended to establish groundwork for further studies that assess how potential campus policies and land use impact the use of sustainable transportation and parking demand, as well as provide a case study for other institutions considering similar changes.

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