Maynooth University, one of Ireland leading third-level institutions, has announced a major study into commuting patterns among Ireland's workforce. The study is an attempt to see how the changes wrought by the pandemic - such as so many of us working from home - will affect the needs for urban and intra-urban transport in the future.
Social and economic impacts of commuting
The research will be carried out by the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) at Maynooth and will look at the economic, social and spatial impacts of pre- and post-COVID commuting on communities and districts across Ireland.
It'll be a two-year study, and other organisations and institutions collaborating with Maynooth will be the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage as well as the Office for the Planning Regulator (OPR), the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) and Clare County Council. It represents a unique research collaboration between Maynooth University, Ulster University, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, University College Dublin, and the University of Maryland in the US.
The study, which will be called 'InPLACE: Investigating Place, Planning and Commuting', will initially focus on three locations: Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow; Maghera, Co Derry; and Ennistymon-Lahinch, Co Clare.
Influence on transport policy
The findings, when they are available, could have a significant impact on future transport policies. Up to the time of the pandemic, it was generally assumed that the largest population growths in Ireland would be in the commuter belt around Dublin and that more resources - especially in terms of roads and public transport - would be needed there. The pandemic might just have changed all of that - if we're working from home more, then transport needs will reduce, and it might open up the possibility of working from further away, with the potential for some rural regeneration. The Government also has launched a National Remote Working Strategy to make remote working a permanent option for life after the pandemic.
Welcoming the commencement of this timely study, Minister of State for Planning and Local Government, Peter Burke, TD, said: "The COVID 19 pandemic has taught us many lessons and made us re-examine many daily habits and tasks that went hand in hand with a pre-pandemic lifestyle. While the need to switch off and disconnect has been an issue for many whose home has now also become their workplace, we have seen the huge benefits that come with removing long commute times and expense from our daily lifestyle."
Research of significant importance
The Minister continued: "I welcome this research which will be important as we chart our way out of the pandemic, hopefully keeping some of the good habits and lessons learned over the preceding year. Within the Department, we soon hope to launch a report and implement recommendations on a Town Centre First approach, with many smaller towns now feeling the benefits of increased footfall. From a planning policy perspective, the research will be of significant importance, and I look forward to studying the results of the research when available."
Chief Executive and Planning Regulator at the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR), Niall Cussen, said: "The learnings from the pandemic are already having profound impacts on planning. This ICLRD research proposal fits very well with the role of the OPR and will be of great value in informing future planning thinking and practice."
Dr Bernie O'Donoghue Hynes, Head of Research with the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA), said: "All change brings with it positive and negative benefits to a variety of stakeholders. In the context of an increase in remote working, local authorities want to try to understand the full implications of this shift in order to anticipate the potential consequences for our communities, our businesses and our environment. This will enable us to plan to maximise the opportunities and address the challenges."
Prof Brian Donnellan, Vice President for Engagement and Innovation at Maynooth University and Executive Director of ICLRD said: "During the pandemic, we had to restrain mobility and promote social distancing. The mobility restrictions at local, regional and national levels may have pervasive effects on the way people interact and travel in the future. This study will help us explore and understand the effect of the pandemic on changes in commuting behaviour in post-COVID-19 times."