The Coming Shift In Commuting Patterns?

With boomers set to retire, and more small and home-based business cropping up, its likely more and more people will be skipping the morning and afternoon rush hours. But how will such a change impact our traffic patterns?

Read Time: 3 minutes

April 20, 2008, 9:00 AM PDT

By Christian Madera @

"This year, as the first wave of 76 million baby boomers reaches official retirement age in the U.S., traffic engineers are already anticipating a potential shift in driving patterns that could well have enormous impact on fuel consumption and traffic technology needs for years to come.

Imagine 20 million people in the U.S., exiting the work place in five-year segments over the course of the next two decades. In total, that's half of today's work place. As many as 70% of boomers want to build their own small companies from a home setting.

There are indications from staffing and recruiting companies like global giant Robert Half that corporations are preparing to hire back boomers as subcontractors, but many may operate from homes or small office settings close to their residences. Already, major corporations such as IBM and Cisco Systems are hiring more home-based workers, creating "hybrid" companies with full-time staff augmented by subcontractors.

Today the virtual work place trend is apparent in college towns across the U.S. like Amherst, Mass., and lifestyle locales like Asheville, N.C., and Bellingham, Wash., which are quickly becoming quality of life destinations for boomers developing their own virtual companies. Rather than experiencing clog ups during rush hour, quality-of-life locales like Amherst are experiencing far more traffic congestion at meal times--particularly lunch--as the self-employed virtual company owner heads to commercial districts for business meetings and to conduct errands. In these sorts of places, it's a return to the 19th century where people live and work close to a town or village center.

John Collura, director of the UMass Transportation Center and a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, has joined the virtual work place as a telecommuter who travels between a home office and the university several days a week. He also maintains what career expert Barbara Reinhold calls a "sidecar company" from his home, so he personally encompasses two types of virtual workers. Like many teleworkers, he has some choice in what times he commutes, whenever possible avoiding peak traffic hours on highways or arterial roads. Collura notes that virtual company owners have even more choice as they can tackle work in a flexible fashion and have the most choice about when to drive.

He's witnessing changes in driving habits, which are contributing to traffic congestion in the western Massachusetts region, particularly at midday along arterial roads and downtown commercial districts. "If I was a transportation planner, I'd make sure that officials in my agency recognized that people are changing how they travel. Fixed routes and fixed schedule like bus services won't meet their needs like they did 50 years ago, because what's inherent in the virtual world is there are no predictable schedules," he says."

Friday, April 18, 2008 in Forbes

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