The End of Rush Hour - Will anyone really miss it?
As we discovered during the worst of the pandemic, with roads being practically empty at all times of the day, essential workers commuting and essential goods being delivered creates very little traffic. Rush hour(s) disappeared. Many of those packing roads and transit discovered that they could work from home. It seems that a great portion of rush hour traffic is created by those who don't even need to go anywhere to work.
The Center for Disease Control is already recommending that during the pandemic, employers “Allow employees to shift their hours so they can commute during less busy times.” and “Stagger shifts, start times, and break times as feasible to reduce the density of employees in common areas such as screening areas, break rooms, and locker rooms.” These would be good policies to encourage or even require after the pandemic to reduce crowding on transit and congestion on roads.
While the focus of the media and government transportation officials professionals is the travel time impacts of rush hour congestion on drivers, at least drivers are in relative safety in the comfort of their vehicle. The impact of crowding at rush hour is often worse for many people using transit.
Women are likely harassed and assaulted more when transit is crowded. Those with money often end up being forced to spend more money for transportation by buying a motor vehicle or using taxis or ride hailing. Those with lower incomes or who are unable to drive have no choice but to be subjected to harassment and assault. Both situations are totally unacceptable.
Disabled people, seniors those with injuries and others with mobility changes and those using strollers and carts are much more likely to experience pass-ups during peak periods than temporarily able people. When transit is more crowded, people are less able to be economically, socially or personally productive. It is harder to use a smartphone or tablet or read a newspaper or book.
Vast amounts of valuable land and enormous amounts of money have been devoted in trying to reduce road congestion. Yet, even before the pandemic, this only provided some travel time benefits to some people during peak periods at the expense of pretty much everyone else and everyone during the vast majority of hours in a week. Using space for bus lanes, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, greenspace and patios benefits pretty much everyone all the time. And, more often than not, road expansion has failed to reduce congestion and often has made it worse by encouraging more people to drive.
Several cities have successfully implemented congestion pricing significantly reducing congestion and pollution. However, congestion pricing is typically politically difficult and expensive to implement. It also places the cost and responsibility of reducing congestion on workers who likely don’t have much choice when they have to go to work. Implementing and operating congestion pricing can also be very expensive. It also places the burden on individuals to reduce their motor vehicle travel during peak periods. While some people can choose to travel at other times, others are required by their employer or school to commute during peak periods. They are forced to either pay more to drive, take transit when it is most crowded or cycle on what are likely unsafe streets in many cases.
A fairer, more equitable and likely less expensive option would be to encourage or require employers and educational institutions to help employees and students travel less especially during peak hours. Some of this has already been done during the pandemic. Now would be a great time inclusive engagement with those accessing essential services, workers, students, employers, educational institutions and others on how to continue and enhance and improve measures to reduce the need to travel especially during rush hour over the longer term. The overall goal should be enabling more equitable, accessible and healthier communities for everyone.
An good example is how the BC Government took action requiring that employees only work at one long term care or assisted living facility to avoid the spread of COVID. This is likely better for most workers, essential during the pandemic and reduces driving making our roads less congested and safer. It would be a good idea to strongly encourage this through regulations or incentives after the pandemic.
Here are some other ideas. I’m sure there are a lot more. Let your elected representatives know what your ideas, concerns and thoughts are on enabling people to travel less during rush hour.
- Enabling, encouraging and or mandating changes to work hours and number of workdays to decrease peak period crowding on transit and congestion on roads
- Four or three day work weeks
- Fewer or no days in offices
- More remote work and learning
- Staggered work and school hours to avoid rush hour commuting
- Business hours that encourage customers to travel in off peak hours
- Medical appointments during peak hours could be prioritized for those who live close while off peak appointments could be prioritized for those who drive or take transit
- Fees or taxes on employers that require workers to travel during peak periods
Other ideas to encourage less travel by automobile
- Policies that encourage more full time work so people don't have to work and commute to several part time jobs
- Polices that discourage split shifts
- Require employers to pay a living wage so people don't have commute to more than one workplace in a day
- Enabling employees to “swap” jobs without losing pay or benefits so their workplaces are closer to where they live
- Much greater government investment in social housing
- Land use policies that encourage more affordable housing close to employment centres
- Mandatory trip reduction plans for workplaces. Washington State does a good job of this
- Better transit service early in the morning, late at night and on the weekends
- Reallocate traffic lanes for bus lanes, protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks
- Banning street parking except where needed for essential access. It slows down buses, causes congestion and increases crashes. The space then can be used for bike lanes, bus lanes and wider sidewalks
- Banning monthly pay parking. Only pay by day
A thread that outlines some of the advantages and problems that need to be address.
🏭 Pollution reduction: many companies we've spoken to care massively about the environmental impact that eradicating the office – and the commute – will have— Chris Herd (@chris_herd) October 5, 2020
108 million tons of Co2 less every year
Photo: BERNARD WEIL / TORONTO STAR
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