One of my photos

Beat the rush hour

April 7th, 2011 · Posted by Skuds in Life/Work · 3 Comments · Life, Work

Anybody who follows my scribblings even casually on here, or Twitter or Facebook, will probably know that I am not a big fan of commuting.  I have managed engineer my home and work so that I can get to work in a five-minute walk and I’m still a little amazed that so few people try to do the same, so I’m cautiously welcoming the news that the the government are looking at ways to reduce rush hour congestion.

Unfortunately I don’t hold out much hope for success.  None of it is new; some of the ideas have been suggested before, others have been tried, but it has never really taken and I think that some really deep cultural changes would be needed to make any difference.  The only difference now is that perhaps ever-rising fuel prices will give people more of an incentive.

Amongst the ideas are the usual suspects: staggering travel times, reducing bus and train fares for off-peak travel, home-working and videoconferencing.   I thik that one reason such ideas fail is the same reason that efforts to get people out of cars and onto public transport to ease congestion also fail – everyone says it is a good idea in principle, but they don’t want to do it themselves, they want everyone else to do it so they can continue driving without getting stuck in traffic jams.

Where I work we have a degree of flexitime, facilities for home-working, some concessions on buses and trains and yet the biggest problem on site is how hard it is to park if you arrive after 8:30.

Of course, if you work in a shop, factory, restaurant, warehouse, and lots of other places then homeworking is a non-starter as are choosing your own hours.  All these ideas are really aimed at office workers and are not aimed too much at the bosses who already have quite a bit of flexibility which they often use.  The problem lies with the lack of trust they put in their workers.

They often think that staff working at home will be dossing around, or they that staff who come in really early or really late will spend the hours they are at work alone dossing around.  I don’t know why they think theat – maybe that is what they do when they are working at home and assume everyone else will be the same?

The idea of rural hubs sounds interesting, but the details could be difficult.  Our company have a few satellite offices and some people work at the nearest site rather than their official base sometimes, but they are always in a company site with all the security that involves.  Would a bank be happy for its staff to be working in a local hot-desking place where they might be sitting next to somebody who works for a competitor or customer?

To suceed, such schemes would need a lot of planning and a lot of investment in telecoms infrastructure and by companies.  They would need some hefty servers to handle VPN traffic for a start.  They would probably want all the laptops encrypted which can add a couple of hundred to the cost of each PC.   It would pay off in the long run, but we have such short-term outlooks that it would be difficult to persuade companies to make the investments when the payback period might be ten years – or when they make the investment but the return is a benefit to society rather than to the company specifically – i.e. when the costs are easily quantifiable but the returns aren’t.

Government grants and incentives would help in that, except we are told there is no money for anything.  Except bombs of course.  We can always find the money to bomb Libya.

Cheaper off-peak fares might work, but only if they are significantly cheaper and only if those managerial suspicions are overcome.

I wonder if more success might come from getting entire companies to stagger their hours.  Like having company A work 7-3 while the companies on either side work 8-4 and 9-5.   I know that some companies in Crawley have changed their hours so that staff can avoid congestion, but there has been no element of co-ordination, just the odd firm finishing 20 minutes before all the other to beat the rush, which will only work until a few more firms do the same. But then that is market forces for you.

I’ll be interested to see how it works out even though I am officially disinterested because of my own situation.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • Peter

    In Crawley we should encourage people to Cycle….. Nowhere in Crawley is more than 20 minutes from Manor Royal or Gatwick. Reliably, there and back, every day. No queues/jams. And only rains one day a year (ok, that’s not true!)

    Of course we need WSCC/CBC to invest to support it.

    Sounds like you have a business plan to set-up these satellites/rural hubs?

    • Skuds

      I agree with that more now that I don’t live at the top of a hill as far from Manor Royal as it is possible to get within the won.

      Companies need to invest as well though – providing more changing rooms, lockers and showers. We have one shower room for each 250 staff. Approximately.

      I could do a business plan for a rural hub. It could be very profitable and there lies the problem. If I made money operating one it means someone else was paying. Not all employers will fork out in order to help somebody else save time/money. There are benefits to the employer – but some are intanglible and all hard to quantify.

      For a hub to suceed it would have to try quantifying those benefots for companies to show them that it really is in their interest.

  • skud's sister

    At the heart of the problem seems to be the fact that people are generally only concerned with how anything effects just themselves. I can see no hope for a Big Society when nobody will look beyond their own bank balance/property price/privacy to drive alone and not have to sit next to a stranger…..