Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Impact of a Four Day Working Week on Travel Demand

Until recently the characteristic Monday to Friday, 40 hour, 9-5 work schedule dominated modern business practices in the rich West. A number of factors helped shape this temporal schedule including Judeo-Christian holy days, the conventions and standards advocated by the International Labour Organisation set up in 1919 and the business practices of iconic capitalists such as Henry Ford. Such business schedules have impacted on many other practices in everyday life, conditioning the times and places people shop for groceries, rest, eat meals and importantly commute to work.

In terms of the work commute the standardisation of the work schedule has had the unintended consequence of creating peak traffic times and rush hours. The rush hour has been exacerbated further still by an increase in the average distance people travel to work, partly as a result of urban sprawl and the growth of out-of-town business parks. (Gallup 24 August 2007)

However, recent calls for restructuring the working week to four days, primarily to maintain employment levels and to reduce business costs in times of austerity (see Times Online 11 February 2009 for recent trend), may have huge unintended impacts on travel demand derived from the commute to work. For example, in the state of Utah, USA there are trails currently being conducted to assess the impacts of reducing the working week to four days. What has emerged is that overall employees are more satisfied, business costs are reduced and importantly transport demand is reduced. An interim report by the Utah government posited that shutting down buildings on Friday would be “the equivalent of taking about 2,300 cars off the road for one year". (Scientific American 24 July 2009)

The New Economics Foundation, a British left-wing think tank, also emphasises the social and environmental benefits of a four day week. (BBC News 13 February 2010) The additional impacts on travel demand from a four day week, however, have yet to be fully addressed.

Changing the temporal schedules of work is, of course, facilitated by technological innovation and development that has allowed working hours to be reduced while productivity is maintained (Guardian 10 November 2007) or in some cases increased. (Irish Times 5 July 2010) Future developments in technology may continue to increase productivity, reducing the demand for labour hours and thus having the potential to further reduce the transport demand derived from commuting to work in the future.

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