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Welcome To The New Rush Hour

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The Resilience of Rush Hour

At the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was stuck at home and working from home, many prophesied that the end was nigh for rush hour. They suspected that remote work would become the norm, forever reducing the number of cars on the road. But a recent report has shown that rush hour still very much exists, and it’s worse than before.

Before COVID, rush hour was predictable. The roads would be busy between 7 am and 10 am as people rushed to work, and again after work, from 3 pm to 6 pm. Long weekends would alter these times slightly, but everyone knew what to expect. At the beginning of the pandemic, all of this changed as fewer people traveled for work, entertainment or healthcare. During this unprecedented time, the total vehicle miles traveled dropped by 40.2 percent in the U.S. – a historic change. Yet after Easter weekend, vehicle travel started rising again. Although it’s still 16.3 percent 2019 levels, it is rebounding faster than many people anticipated.

Redefining Rush Hour

Now, let’s talk about rush hour specifically. Recent information shows that 77 percent of office employees are currently working from home, at least part-time. That trend is expected to continue even after the pandemic. With fewer commuters on the road, the morning and afternoon peak traffic times are much less defined, instead favoring gradual, all-day “mini-rush hours.” This is because employees now have the flexibility to shop, run errands and leave their house at any point during the day, instead of being tied to their nine to five work schedule. City centers are also seeing a decrease in traffic as offices remain mostly closed.

So how does this new data impact transportation overall? As we have seen throughout the pandemic, trust in public transportation has seen a dramatic decline. Confined spaces with poor airflow, which happens on busses and subways, have been known to spread the virus easily. This has led to declining ridership and, in turn, a huge loss of revenue for most public transit agencies across the U.S. Without financial aid from the government, most public transit agencies are expecting that they’ll have to cut services. As vehicle travel slowly returns to its pre-pandemic levels, this could spell even more trouble for commuters as they suffer through rush hour.

Investing in Commuter Solutions

Governments will be forced to invest in solutions that help commuters – both those that want to drive and those that want to take public transit. For public transit, this means both addressing the concerns from riders and providing financial support during the decline in ridership. With new leadership in the U.S., public transit agencies will likely see further financial aid to help them through this tough time. This will help them continue to provide service and potentially extend routes. If municipalities want to increase ridership, changes to the structure are necessary. This means increasing the airflow in these confined spaces and reducing the capacity on each bus and subway car. This would require a huge overhaul on how public transit currently operates and would be particularly challenging in areas with cold winters.

Addressing the New Rush Hour

In the interim, driving will likely continue to be the norm. This means that cities across the country need to find solutions to help the influx of cars – and host the influx of parkers. Reducing tolls, halting parking tickets and improving parking options are all solutions that have been discussed by cities across the U.S. Reimagining existing assets that are being underused, such as hotels, can also help to host the influx of parkers in downtown cores. In the short-term, cities need to ensure that they are able to host cars in order to provide employees with a safe way to commute. Unfortunately, most places have not implemented these measures. This means that individuals who have returned to the office, or essential workers who have not been able to transition to remote work, have been suffering from an increase in parking tickets, along with the high price of parking in city centers.

Existing assets need to be reimagined to help people commuting into city centers for work but also those in the suburbs who are contending with the new rush hour. And as people return to work, flexible options for getting to, and parking at, their jobs will need to emerge. Until public transit is radically improved to increase the safety of both passengers and drivers, the new rush hour will only get worse.

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