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If You Think Your Commute Is Getting Worse, You're Right

Travelers in all U.S. metro areas are wasting more time than ever in traffic--and more gas, according to the 2007 Urban Mobility Report.

Released Tuesday, the report says traffic congestion is draining $78 billion from the economy every year, including "4.2 billion lost hours and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel—that's 105 million weeks of vacation and 58 fully-loaded supertankers."

How can we make things better?

Flex Time, Telecommuting Can Help Cut Congestion

The authors of the study say there's no magic fix.

The problem has grown too rapidly and is too complex for only one technology or service to be “the solution” in most regions. The increasing trends also indicate the urgency of the improvement need. Major improvements can take 10 to 15 years and smaller efforts may not satisfy all the needs.

So we recommend a balanced and diversified approach to reduce congestion. The solutions will be different depending on the state or city where they are implemented. There will also be a different mix of solutions in various parts of town depending on the type of development, the level of activity and policy or geographic constraints in particular sub-regions, neighborhoods and activity centers.

One part of their solution calls on employers to offer flexible work and telecommuting. For example, if employees can work from home at certain times of the week or month that coincide with peak travel times, they won't contribute to congestion:

There are solutions that involve employers and travelers changing the time they travel. Flexible work hours allow employees to choose work schedules that meet family needs and the needs of their jobs. Using the phone, computer and internet to work from home for a few hours, or a few days each month also moves trips to off-peak hours while providing productivity benefits and lower turnover to employers and travel time benefits, stress reduction and job satisfaction improvements to employees.

This report, along with Kenexa's recent study showing telecommuters to be the most satisfied and loyal workers, makes a good case for working from home. Thanks to technology, we certainly have the ability to work from home. And there's a need for more of it, given congestion and workers' quest for work-life balance.

Of course telecommuting isn't for everyone, and spending time in the office will and should remain an important part of many jobs.

But if we use and manage it wisely, telecommuting can save time and money, improve workers' mindsets, boost productivity, and reduce stress and traffic congestion.

Findings from the Mobility Report

Los Angeles suffers the most congestion, according to the mobility report, with travelers spending an average of 72 hours a year in traffic and wasting 57 gallons of gas. San Francisco, Washington and Atlanta followed, with travelers spending 60 hours a year in traffic.

The report also found:

Congestion costs are increasing. The congestion “invoice” for the cost of extra time and fuel in 437 urban areas (all values in constant 2005 dollars),
• In 2005 – $78 billion
• In 2004 – $73 billion
• In 1982 – $15 billion

Travelers and shippers must plan around congestion more often.
• In all 437 urban areas, the worst congestion levels affected only 1 in 9 trips in
1982, but 1 in 3 trips in 2005.
• Free-flowing traffic is seen less than one-third of the time in urban areas over 1 million
population.
• Delay is five times larger overall and is six times higher in regions with fewer than 1 million people. ...

Policy-makers and big city residents have learned to expect congestion for 1 or 2 hours in the morning and in the evening. However, agencies should be able to improve the performance and reliability of the service at other hours. But they have not been able to combine the leadership, technical and financial support to expand the system, improve operations and change travel patterns to keep congestion levels from growing. ...

But, as we started the discussion of problems with “you” as the problem, so there are roles for “you” in the solution. Trying a carpool, vanpool or public transportation, flexible work hours, telecommuting and the simple act of checking the travel information websites before starting a trip are immediate actions that may improve your travel.

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