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Teleport or commute? Mokhtarian looks at why the answer isn’t always so clear

Thursday, April 2, 2015


(Image Courtesy of Nathan Rupert via Flickr.)

If you could instantly teleport to work or school each day — eliminating your daily commute altogether — would you?

It’s a question Professor Pat Mokhtarian and her colleagues have been asking for more than a decade, with some interesting results. Namely: many people say their ideal commute time is greater than zero (in other words, they don’t feel like they’re wasting time commuting) also say they want to teleport.

Mokhtarian’s latest article in the journal Transportation examines the inconsistencies years of studies have found and suggests some possible explanations.

The work also was featured in The Atlantic’s CityLab.

More from the website’s Eric Jaffe:

Since its first appearance, the teleportation test has been given in five separate research studies. The results may come as something of a surprise given how much people complain about their commutes and the horrors of traffic: a non-trivial share of respondents either said they didn't want to teleport to work, or initially said they did but later walked back that answer. What's become pretty clear to Mokhtarian is that the ideal commute is not always no commute.

"I really think for most people probably it's an 'it depends' kind of answer—even for myself," she tells CityLab. "I deliberately try to have my classes outside of this building to force myself to get out and walk across campus. But if I'm in a hurry, wouldn't I rather teleport? I think for most of us it's context dependent but can be indicative of a general orientation toward travel."

Somewhere, Scotty is shaking his head. Let's beam up the findings anyway, via a recent paper in Transportation by Mokhtarian and Marie Russell of the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Read the full CityLab article and Mokhtarian’s paper in Transportation.