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Sept. 13, 2000
OSWEGO -- With modern technology and increasingly flexible employers, more and more people are choosing to telecommute. How their decisions affect transportation and telecommunications systems is the focus of a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to Dr. June Qiong Dong of the School of Business and two colleagues from other universities.
NSF's Division of Information and Intelligent Systems funded the project, "Decentralized Decision-Making in Complex Network Systems," for a three-year study.
Dong is a co-principal investigator, along with Anna Nagurney of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Patricia L. Mokhtarian of the University of California at Davis.
"This project studies complex network systems, consisting of the foundational systems of transportation and communication networks whose interplay is becoming increasingly important in the case of telecommuting, intelligent transportation systems, electronic commerce and knowledge networks," the researchers wrote in their abstract.
Dong says they will study how the systems mesh and how people behave when they try to make a decision about telecommuting. Previously, they studied only transportation systems. This is the first time the scholars will combine the systems.
The issue of telecommuting is a huge one. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates the number of people telecommuting to work in 1997 was around 7.5 million. According to a recent survey conducted by the International Telework Association and Council, 19.6 million United States-based employees telecommuted in 1999, and 62 percent of companies are encouraging telecommuting.
The decision to telecommute is decentralized, with each person making his or her own choice. Dong explains that people have many criteria for their choices, which may include cost of traveling, time, weather and their need to stay home to care for family members.
Telecommuters must also take into account the costs such a choice will mean for them. "There is the 'opportunity cost,'" Dong says. "They don't see their co-workers, can't socialize and so may lose opportunities."
Workers' decisions to telecommute may affect transportation systems, including highway traffic, which in turn can have an impact on pollution, tolls, need for road repairs and so on.
The researchers will create a model and use California data, which Mokhtarian has collected, to see if the model is valid.
First the researchers will study the behavior of decision makers, and then estimate the effects on the transportation and telecommunications networks using mathematical models they will create.
The results of the research will have a wide range of uses, Dong says. The data may be used in policymaking, for example, to determine road tolls or pollution control laws. Also, it can be used to help companies provide packages of benefits to help workers decide between telecommuting or traditional jobs.
"The impact of this study could be very broad," Dong says.
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