Hybrid remote work schedules have worsened commuting in metropolitan areas

With more workers returning to offices since Labor Day, the Washington area’s notorious rush-hour traffic has returned with a vengeance, as pandemic-era hybrid schedules have made commuting less predictable and, in many more miserable cases.

Motorists who hoped increased telecommuting would curb traffic jams say their morning commute, particularly last week, took up to twice as long as it did in the spring and during the summer lull.

Experts say they’re seeing traffic disruptions in many U.S. metropolitan areas, especially those where government, tech and other jobs lend themselves to hybrid schedules. Travel now concentrated on a few days a week leads to noticeable fluctuations in daily traffic volumes – motorists say Wednesdays are the worst – while greater flexibility in when to leave home has altered peak timing in the morning.

Gone are the days of entering the office in a breeze – or at least having an idea of ​​how long it will take to get there.

“It’s been terrible since Labor Day,” said Kensington resident Lisa Marley, 60, after driving an hour Wednesday to work downtown. The same journey took around 45 minutes before the pandemic and had mostly dropped to 35 minutes since the summer of 2021.

“I think everybody’s office is saying, ‘Come on, come back here,'” she said.

Offices have reopened. Persuading commuters to fill them is not so simple

Brenda Alvarez, 46, a northeast DC resident, said her commute to downtown took about 25 minutes before the pandemic hit. On Wednesday, it took almost twice as long.

“I don’t think it should take me nearly 45 minutes to go three to four miles,” said Alvarez, a writer for an association.

The slog appears in the trip data. Seattle-area analytics firm INRIX found that driving eastbound on Interstate 66 between the Capital Beltway and the DC side of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge last Tuesday took 13 minutes, up from nine minutes in August. However, it was still faster than the 15 minutes it took before the pandemic.

The Beltway’s Outer Loop trip from the Interstate 270 branch in Maryland to the Virginia side of the American Legion Bridge took about six minutes on Tuesday morning, up slightly from the 4.5 minutes in August, said INRIX.

As workers return to the office, experts see troubling signs of more solo driving

Meanwhile, Metrorail, which has recovered much more slowly than car traffic, hit its highest ridership of the pandemic on Wednesday, when it recorded 44% of pre-pandemic weekday trips. Before Labor Day, the subway system had hovered around 40% since late March.

Average office occupancy rates in the Washington area also hit a pandemic high, at around 52% on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to security firm Kastle Systems, which monitors key fobs and swipe cards. The average for 10 major US cities hit 55% on both days, also the highest in the pandemic.

Traffic usually rebounds in early September when holidays end and schools reopen. However, this year’s jump was more pronounced after more than two years of lighter than usual traffic. Many employers also used the Labor Day holiday as a marker to call more workers back to the office — and apply more pressure on those who resisted.

Have you changed your route? La Poste wants to hear from you

David Schrank, principal investigator at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said motorists will see “volatility and variability” until commuters settle into more permanent office hours.

“We’re all going to be dealing with increased variability in our movements, because we don’t know if it’s a day when everyone else comes in as well,” Schrank said.

Michael L. Paylor, Montgomery County traffic engineering and operations chief, said the county’s traffic management system has automatically adjusted the timing of green and red lights to keep pace with the changes in travel volumes.

“The network is in a state of flux right now,” Paylor said, “and we haven’t even normalized into a new model yet.”

Commuters’ experiences have always varied depending on the weather, their route, and any collisions or breakdowns encountered along the way. But traffic volumes – and travel times – have started to swing more dramatically from day to day depending on who’s coming to the office. So far, Wednesday is the most popular office day, closely followed by Tuesday and Thursday, with Monday and especially Friday lagging even further behind, according to Kastle.

Months of pandemic telecommuting left some missing their commute’s ‘me time’

Traffic at the height of rush hour is as bad as ever in the Washington area and other major metropolitan areas, experts say, as even a small increase swings a heavily congested road network from fluid to stop-start. Meanwhile, the worst of the morning slump appears to be shorter, but heavier traffic now lasts longer, often past 10 a.m., likely as more drivers start the workday from home before heading out.

Commuters say they are looking for ways to get around the mess.

Darshelle Freeman, 51, said she plans to change one of her two office days from Wednesday after that day’s drive from Waldorf to downtown last week took an hour and a half. half, compared to a typical hour before the pandemic.

“Tuesday was fine,” said Freeman, a payroll manager for an association. “Wednesday was absolutely worse.”

Springfield resident Bryan DeAngelis, 39, said his commute had gotten “worse and more expensive” since Labor Day. To save time, he said, he pays more often to use the busy toll lanes on Interstate 395. On Wednesday, he spent about $14 on tolls. Even then, he said, a ride that previously took about 25 minutes using part of the HOT lanes consumed nearly 50 minutes.

If he hadn’t paid a toll, “I would have arrived at 10:30 a.m. or 10:45 a.m.,” said public affairs consultant DeAngelis. “Traffic just wasn’t flowing on the 14th Street Bridge, and it was 9:45 a.m.”

Why some telecommuters have come to view the commute as unnecessary

DeAngelis and other motorists have speculated that some of the traffic likely comes from subway riders avoiding the subway system due to delays caused by some cars remaining out of service for a safety defect. Metro too recently closed the Yellow Line for eight months, while six Virginia stations are closed for six weeks.

Others said they suspected roadwork started earlier in the pandemic, when traffic was much lighter, was making the slowdowns worse.

German Vigil, spokesman for the district’s transportation department, said the agency plans to analyze whether work zone lane closing times and traffic signal green and red lights should be adjusted based on changing travel habits. He said the analysis will begin in a few weeks, after motorists have firmed up routines for the school year.

The morning rush, which is more focused on commuting and dropped earliest in the pandemic, appears to be the most volatile, experts said. The evening rush has remained relatively stable throughout the pandemic, even with more telecommuting, as people also do more personal travel at that time, like picking grocery shopping or picking up the kids from after-school activities.

As workers make fewer trips to the office, commuter rail systems struggle to fill seats

OMCP traffic reporter Dave Dildine, who follows the evening rush, said he ‘was visibly tame’ just after Labor Day but grabbed this past the week. He said he expects commutes this fall to be more like pre-pandemic rush hours, but that will depend on how many people continue to telecommute.

“All it takes is a slight reduction in total volume to tell the difference between fluency and congestion,” Dildine said.

Commuters should also continue to adjust their office days and commute times to find the most tolerable and predictable routes.

OMCP traffic reporter Mary DePompa, who has been tracking the area’s morning rush for 13 years, said she’s confident frustrated motorists calling the radio station more frequently will soon do so. find workarounds.

“DC commuters are very traffic savvy,” she said. said.

Writer Justin George contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.