The end of rush hour: Technology gives way to new commuting and mobility patterns
Work schedules outside of the traditional 9 am to 5 pm allow greater flexibility in personal mobility, and in turn decreases congestion in developing cities. Photo by Roger Schultz/Flickr.

Work schedules outside of the traditional 9 am to 5 pm allow greater flexibility in personal mobility, and in turn decreases congestion in developing cities. Photo by Roger Schultz/Flickr.

For decades, ‘work’ meant spending an eight-hour chunk of your day in an office, industrial facility, or at school. Workers needed to physically occupy a given location in order to do their jobs. Because of this, the trips to and from these locations were slow, uncomfortable and time-consuming. Commuters essentially had two options: stuck in traffic in a car or packed onto a bus or train. Either way, they were bound to the rush hour schedule. Urban residents had two certainties in life: death and traffic jams.

Within the last decade, however, the growth of the Internet and mobile technologies has transformed this culture of work. In the coming years, we’ll see mobility patterns and the notion of ‘rush hour’ follow suit.

Where we are now: Strict schedules, strained infrastructure

Rush hour – in most cities weekday mornings and late afternoons – is when most people move, and in turn when transport systems and infrastructure are most strained.  Shifting these mobility patterns might be easier if these were trips taken for leisure, but 80% of all trips in developing countries are taken for economic necessity. To change these mobility patterns, it is necessary to change the surrounding culture of work that forces people into these schedules.

Currently, rigid work schedules and the mobility patterns they foster are bad for people, the economy, the environment, and for transport infrastructure. For people, congestion means more of their time wasted in traffic. For the environment, more cars idling leads to more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For transport infrastructure, it means at certain times infrastructure is overused – contributing to rapid deterioration – and at other times underused, causing inefficiencies. Even small adjustments to the standard work schedule can impact the duration and intensity of rush hour, bringing multiple benefits for cities.

There are signs this shift is already occurring. It is no longer uncommon to find people who work at home one or more days a week, or companies that implement 10am to 4pm as core hours for employees, with greater flexibility for other hours.

Ubiquitous communication and mobile technologies will be vital to further changing this model, allowing for collaboration outside of the work environment. So, too, will the shift to what some experts call the creative economy. In a creative economy, successful businesses will need to promote creativity and innovation, which will in turn demand more flexible patterns of work and mobility.

A future free of the 9 to 5

As the standard workday fades in many cities, the peaks and valleys in travel patterns we see today will eventually even out. Working from home, people can run their errands early in the morning or very late at night, instead of immediately upon getting home from work. This means one less person out of rush hour, and one more minute sooner that everyone else can get home. So far, only a few populations around the world have this freedom. In the United Kingdom, for instance, cultural barriers are preventing progressive policies on flexible schedules from taking hold.

But with technology that enables more flexible work schedules – and a few pioneering companies proving the concept – work as we know it won’t be the same for much longer, and neither will mobility patterns.

Collecting real-time data enables transport operators to provide users with information on what is both the most efficient and cheapest route, optimizing supply and demand. As schedules become more flexible, technology becomes even more engrained into work, and the culture of the creative economy spreads becomes more deeply entrenched. The resulting changes in mobility patterns may become even more profound than the changes to working schedules. One day, the idea of rush hour could be relegated to the history books.

This article originally appeared in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

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