Transit in the new normal (Part 2): Work hours
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - September 30, 2020 - 12:00am

It’s very easy to be tempted to attempt and revise transit infrastructure and systems by simply taking the social distancing requirements and do the mathematical processes to compute for demand, peak and non-peak hours, supply, capacity and frequency.  The first assumption in this case is obviously that man and society behave the same as the old normal, i.e., before the pandemic required social distancing.  But will it?  The new normal is new, and there are a lot of things we still do not know about it.

Let us look at the old assumptions which we consider as invariable and unalterable.  First, land use and zoning – we traditionally delineate places where we live from places where we work, oftentimes in large swatches of land areas.  This wholesale subdivision of land uses produces a requirement to transport people over long distances.  Second, for all intents and purposes, we define working hours as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Any other schedule is frowned upon, except the 8-hour-shifts-3 shifts a day schedule, which is the next larger group or workers.  The two modes already define the bulk of work schedules.

All other schedules of human activity, especially in the urban setting, revolves around these 2 work schedules.  Commerce and business adjust theirs to accommodate the times around when people work and when they are outside the workplace, not yet home, and doing all the other non-home and non-work-related activities.  Sleep is obviously an important determinant which is why most other activities close or slows down at night.  But those who work in shifts know that this is not necessarily the case – we need 8 hours of sleep – a third of our waking hours, preferably at night.  But not necessarily.

The 8-to-5 working day produced the kind of natural imbalance imposed in whatever mobility infrastructure we build.  Work hours is pre-set for almost everybody, so we have a morning peak and an afternoon/evening peak.  The rest of the day, transportation infrastructure is invariably sub-optimal, a waste in a way, with vehicles running not full, if not empty.  The 8-hour-3x/day shifting is more efficient although it still produces peaks and non-peaks, but the differences are more evenly divided.  That is an idea.

We can start by asking questions about things we consider carved-in-stone.  Eight-hour shifts – is this necessary?  I know there were already a lot of studies made on this and has since then thought has evolved more into 40-hour weeks.  Some have already used 12-hour shifts, too, while maintaining 40-hour weeks or thereabouts.  It is the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedules that need to be re-evaluated.  Everyone gravitates towards that because we just do and take it for granted.  If we venture into a window of options 2 hours before and after that it will do wonders to our congestion problems.  Not to mention doing great things for social distancing.  It will revolutionize transit to make it more evenly keeled and efficient.  Maybe we can start with these questions.  There is really no harm since we’re facing an uncertain new normal anyway.  To be continued.

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