Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rush Hour Commuting

Every day last week I had to commute 44 km in the morning, and 44 km back in the evening. In the morning, I left early and the commute took about 45-50 minutes. In the evening, everyone left at 4:30 (we didn't have the option of staying late) and the commute took about one hour 30 minutes. For the most part, the morning commute wasn't too bad, though I had to get to work about 40 minutes ahead of time in order to avoid rush hour. Unfortunately there was emergency construction one of the days so my morning commute ended up taking an hour and half! It's not unreasonable to assume people may need to commute 88 km in a day, but averaging 35.2 km an hour is NOT a good, or green use of time. You have to assume that all those cars idling in gridlock on city streets and highways aren't helping in terms of smog or greenhouse gases.

So, what are our options for reducing commuting?
1. Move closer to work. A drastic solution, and one that only works if you have long term employment, and everyone else in your household works in the same area. You also need to be able to afford the housing in your employer's neighbourhood. Living closer to work means either a shorter commute, or the chance to walk or bike to work.
2. Take public transit. The ultimate in carpooling, public transit moves a large number of people for a smaller per person emissions rate. Unfortunately, public transit doesn't always go directly between where you need to be. If I wanted to take public transit last week, it would have required around four transfers, systems from 2-3 different regions and a couple of hours each way.
3. Carpool. This is particularly effective if you're working in the same spot for awhile. You can find other people in your office you live near your neighbourhood and commute together. I've used this method before, and the added benefit is that since a few of you are all depending on each other, you can't get too caught up in work and stay until late in the evening. Definitely a benefit for maintaining work-life balance!
4. Telecommute. If your employer lets you work remotely, there's no shorter commute than waking up and walking to the next room. Some jobs lend themselves easily to telecommuting (a lot of the tech industry) and some jobs guarantee telecommuting is not an option (teaching grade 6 for example).
5. Change when you drive. If you can avoid the rush hour times, it'll cut a huge amount of time out of your commute. There was a really interesting study in the Netherlands where commuters were given an incentive to avoid rush hour, and had up to date traffic information streamed to them so that they knew when or where they should drive. I can see why government might want to get in to changing driver habits...less rush hour means less congestion and less accidents, which can only be good! Of course, you need to know where the traffic congestion is in order to make informed driving decisions, which is why they now sell GPS with the ability to receive traffic updates (for a fee of course). Avoiding traffic is a pretty good reward for me, but I'd love to see my area start a reward system like this Dutch city!

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