Opinion Pieces: Avoiding the Peak

Professor David Hensher
Professor David Hensher

Opinion Pieces: since 2007, Prof. David Hensher has written an opinion column in the Australasian Bus and Coach magazine, where he monthly discusses a lot of different transport-related hot topics. In this section we are revisiting these columns.

Photo: betterroads.com

March 2012

Why is it that so many people who have the opportunity to travel outside of the very highly congested peak periods, especially in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane where congestion is getting worse, opt to still put up with the 7.30-8.45am peak of the peak period in the daily commute? This seems to me to be a very important question, since as little as a six percent reduction in car traffic during these periods can make the difference between stop/start and relatively free flow?

There are many reasons why people still do this, and we are talking about individuals who could indeed exercise the opportunity for more flexible trip times. But research I have undertaken suggests that many more people could begin earlier or later, work a little at home before starting later and still be productive, and all with the support of their employer. It is the fear of the unknown that drives a reckless commitment to the peak of the peak for at least enough people to make a difference to congestion on the roads.

As an example, I have been experimenting with travel in Sydney. I used to leave home at 6.45pm for my commute to the University and it took typically 60 minutes. On a good day we might get it to 45 minutes and on a bad day it is often 90 mins. So after getting tired of this, I started leaving home at 6am and my travel time was always 45mins with little travel time variability. Then I looked at a later start, leaving home at 9.30am, which gave me a 35-40 min trip almost every day. However, and most importantly, I would still get up and be at my computer by 7.15am, get all the emails (including spam) out of the way and do a solid 90 mins of productive undisturbed work before heading into the official office most relaxed and free of traffic congestion. I have found that I am doing as much productive work as before, but often exceeding what I did before. Is there a tinge of guilt by not being seen in the office at my previous time of 7.30ish? There was in the beginning, but not anymore. I am contributing far more, still doing all my duties and in contact by email, skype, phone as required.

So if more people at least experimented this way, I believe that they would have the approval of the employer, they would be less stressed, more productive and take pressure of the governments infrastructure needs budget.

Food for thought.