Municipal sector employee commuting during the COVID-19 pandemic and the environmental load caused by commuting
With the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work increased in municipal sector professions and the decrease in commuting by car was reflected in lower carbon dioxide emissions. However, the changes varied depending on the profession.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive surge in remote work, which was also visible in municipal sector professions. Approximately 40% of the respondents to the Kunta10 survey, carried out in autumn 2020 and again in autumn 2022, said that they had switched to remote work partly or entirely due to the COVID-19 epidemic. However, remote work is not possible in all professions. There are many professional groups in the municipal sector that have carried out on-site work either mainly or throughout the pandemic: these include doctors, nurses, early childhood educators and teachers. In addition, the transition from remote work back to on-site work or at least to hybrid work was widespread in the autumn of 2022, when 91% of the respondents said that they had either fully or partially moved back to on-site work. International studies show that, during the pandemic, the use of public transport decreased and the use of private cars, but also bicycles, increased. This analysis examines how the pandemic was reflected in the commuting choices of employees in the Finnish municipal sector.
Changes in the commuting of municipal sector employees
The average length of commuting in both years was 11.2 kilometres. The car was the most commonly reported form of transport in both summer and winter. Cycling was the second most common form of transport in the summer, but in the winter, public transport was more popular than cycling.
In many municipalities, the aim is to reduce the proportion of commuting by private cars specifically, both in order to mitigate climate change and to improve the air quality in cities. Let us take a closer look at commuting with cars between 2020 and 2022. The distance of commuting clearly correlates with increased likelihood of using a car: the average distance for people who never drive a car was 8 kilometres, while for people who drive a car every day it was 15–16 kilometres. Also interesting is the polarization of driving a car—the distribution is clearly focused on both ends, which means that the car is typically driven either daily or never. Commuting by car was slightly more common in the winter than in the summer. Compared to the results of 2020, the number of people who never drive a car increased by 4 percentage points and the number of people who drive a car every day decreased by 5 percentage points by 2022.
The decrease in the number of those who drive a car daily can also be seen in the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions: the average carbon dioxide emissions per employee from commuting in the municipal sector were 356 kg in 2020 and 315 kg in 2022. The distances driven decreased by 11%
Commuting by car
We will now look at commuting by car in selected professional groups in the municipal and social welfare and health care sectors. The professional groups represent different socioeconomic groups, but there are no major differences in the average distance of commuting (10–12 km in one direction). Firefighters (and guards) provide an exception, as their average distance of commuting was nearly 20 km. Regardless of this, less than a third of them go to work by car every day. In all professional groups, the proportion of people who drive a car every day decreased and the proportion who never drive a car increased between the measurements, and, consequently, carbon dioxide emissions also decreased.
By profession, firefighters generated a lot of carbon dioxide emissions per person. However, as mentioned above, the emissions are not caused by firefighters using an exceptionally large amount of cars, but by long distances. Library workers caused little emissions, as only 12% of them said they drive to work every day in 2022. The use of a car is relatively common in shift work, where public transport is not necessarily even an option at all times of the day. However, the use of cars and, consequently, emissions have also decreased in these professional groups.
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