March 8, 2021

The End of Rush Hour?

Why would we keep rush hour if there’s an option?  And as we’ve collectively discovered during the pandemic, there is.  We don’t all have to assemble in one place at the same time, whether by foot, car or transit, to work together.  Or all leave at the same time, particularly when workplaces will move towards more reservation and coordination systems.

There are still enough people who want to or need to gather at the same time for a rush hour of some kind to resume – and we may already be seeing traffic on some routes back up to about 80 percent. Then there are schools, which do demand that classes assemble at the same time and place.

There is also the question of whether transit (which has resumed to about 40 to 50 percent of pre-Covid demand) will see a movement of users convert to or go back to their cars.  That could offset any reduction from technology.

Now is the time to be watching and measuring – and then deciding what level of rush hour seems to be about right.  That may be subjective, but most likely people will decide for themselves whether there’s any need to all be in the traffic at certain hours when they could be productive at home or in flexible workplaces dispersed throughout the region.  I mean, duh.

In this Zoomy world, we can get the rush hour we want.

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  1. “We don’t all have to assemble in one place at the same time, whether by foot, car or transit, in order to work together.”

    Indeed we don’t; but it sucks a lot less than Zoom when we do. For high salary knowledge workers, if a company can get 5% more productivity out of them by putting them in the same room together, it’s a no-brainer for a company to do that, and to do it as often as possible, even if that means leasing an expensive office and giving people travel incentives for the commute.

    In 2020 we got to read an avalanche of think pieces about how amazing it is that a big chunk of the economy *can* work from home; in mid- to late-2021, I expect to read a bunch of think pieces about how amazingly focused one can be when one actually has an office without kids/cats/etc running around.

    Certainly, there will be a step change in how much 9-5 commuting there is, but I think it’ll be more like 80-90% than 50% of prior. And 80% of rush hour is still going to be rush hour!

  2. This is potentially huge. Every major decision in our road network is based on accommodating peak (rush) hour traffic. Even if daily traffic returns to pre covid norms, a reduction of even 5%-10% in peak traffic would be an ‘easy’ opportunity to permanently reclaim space for cycling or transit.

    However, if cities don’t quickly take advantage, demand will fill the newly available supply of road space, mostly from former transit customers.

  3. Yes, this moment is full of possibilities. Studies are showing that people who buy an EV tend to drive 10% to 30% more kilometres per year. Yikes! (Rationales given: Cheaper than gas; driving is now “guilt-free”)
    Fortunately the Climate Action Secretariat is evaluating a comprehensive program to reduce traffic congestion and the 50% of BC’s urban GHG emissions that is caused by transportation.

    1. I wonder how free of guilt some EV owners would be if they knew that at any given time 5% – 15% of Metro Vancouver’s power was bought and imported from coal-burning plants in the US.

  4. The “end of rush hour” has one critical implication for transit: a shift in demand from peak-period weekdays toward middays, evenings, and weekends. Not that much TransLink service falls in that category, but the West Coast Express certainly does.

    Given the time-restricted nature of current agreements with the host railroad, now is the time to start planning for a major investment in regional rail on dedicated passenger tracks.

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