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Working from home will spur city jobs and longer commutes

Victorians who can work from home will live further away from their workplaces but the central city’s dominance as a strong employment centre will be reinforced, new long-term modelling by the state’s independent infrastructure body finds.

Infrastructure Victoria Acting CEO Jonathan Spear said: “Speculation is rife about the COVID-19 pandemic’s longer-term effects on Victoria’s cities and regions if more people work from home, more often.

“With integrated land use and transport modelling, we can better understand how an ongoing preference for working from home some of the time, for those who can, might influence how Victorians live, work and commute.”

Based on a third of workers working from home 2 to 3 days a week by 2036, Victoria’s population will be more spread out around Melbourne, and around regional cities including Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, as people factor in a lower commute time-cost and seek out the lifestyle benefits of a tree or sea change.

This will also prompt faster population growth in outer suburbs, new growth areas and the peri-urban rural areas of Melbourne compared to Victoria’s pre-COVID baseline.

“When people can work from home some days each week, they are willing to tolerate longer commutes on their fewer days in the office,” Dr Spear said.

“But access to major job precincts remains a factor in people’s housing choices, which means these dispersion effects occur in the immediate vicinity of Melbourne and big regional cities, but do not extend to other regional areas further away.”

The modelling also shows faster jobs growth in inner Melbourne than might have otherwise occurred as businesses continue to locate where they can access the largest workforce catchment, harness the benefits of being physically near each other and leverage existing transport networks.

“Economic activity in central Melbourne has taken a big hit during the pandemic, but our modelling provides hope that more working from home can actually help boost inner Melbourne’s job numbers in the longer term, helping the city centre maintain its primacy as Victoria’s most important employment precinct.”

The modelling also found:

  • car use across metropolitan Melbourne does not rise as quickly, as some workers no longer travel to work every day
  • longer car and public transport trips on average for people living in outer Melbourne and new growth areas as they commute further distances, but less often
  • slightly reduced morning peak congestion in inner and middle Melbourne and
  • worse congestion on most major freeways leading towards Melbourne but the total time drivers spend on congested roads does not substantially change (as workers are commuting less often).

The report, The post-pandemic commute: the effects of more working from home in Victoria, makes several recommendations to the Victorian Government in light of the findings including:

  • Timely delivery of green and social infrastructure for Melbourne’s new growth areas, such as interconnected open space networks, urban tree canopies, aquatic recreation centres and libraries.
  • Greater planning protection for peri-urban areas of environmental sensitivity, bushfire risk, or agricultural value.
  • Increase measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes to reduce household energy bills and network demand.
  • Continue support for more homes in established areas to reduce additional population pressure in new growth areas and peri-urban areas, including social housing to ensure equitable access.
  • Focus employment support outside of central Melbourne on a limited number of priority suburban hubs, considering the multiple factors driving urban population dispersal and employment centralisation.
  • Reform transport network pricing to manage congestion and get the most out of our existing roads and public transport.
  • Make the most out of existing rail capacity by discounting off-peak fares and increasing off-peak services to encourage more people to use the train network for their commute.
  • Expand and improve rail infrastructure to meet growing demand in new growth areas, especially in the north and west of Melbourne.
  • Improve the maintenance and adaptability of the road network.
  • Incorporate multiple potential future scenarios in infrastructure planning to ensure the adaptability of infrastructure to new challenges and opportunities.

“There are many changes still to unfold as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Spear said. “Integrated modelling is helpful in identifying these trends and planning for the future so that infrastructure is delivered where it is needed most.”

To read The post-pandemic commute: the effects of more working from home in Victoria and supporting technical report, visit our page on Behaviour change impacts of COVID-19.

Media contact: Mandy Frostick – mandy.frostick@infrastructurevictoria.com.au

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