Could the rush hour become a thing of the past?

Anyone who regularly gets caught up in commuter traffic, whether that’s on a motorway, or on an inner city or town road, will appreciate how frustrating that experience can be.

Not only is watching a long line of vehicles creeping along at a snail’s pace incredibly boring, but it can also add hours to your working day.

I, like many others, have been working from home during the pandemic and one unexpected benefit during the Covid-19 lockdown period was how quiet our major roads were. But with more people in the UK expected to continue to work from home in the longer period, will the traditional rush hour ever return to what it was before?!

During the pandemic our data experts have been supporting engineering consultancy Atkins on some interesting research carried out on the North of England’s road network.

We have supplied Atkins with anonymised mobile network data so they can learn how traffic patterns have changed along nearly 5,000 miles of key roads in the region since March. They hope to gain insights into what to expect for the future of our roads.

The aggregated and anonymised network usage data provided by BT between March and June, covered road usage on major highways such as the M1, M6 and A1. And a new report by Atkins, following the research, has found that the ‘new normal’ post Covid-19, could have a transformative effect on our major roads.

The reduced geographical spread of journey origins could be a good indicator for the effect remote working could have on road usage. With many people who used to travel further distances for work now likely to spend at least some time working from home, Atkins believes traffic on key roads in and out of towns and cities will become more localised.

But it doesn’t stop with home working, as the increased flexibility to work schedules with people rarely now working the traditional 9-5 could help reduce the usual peak-time traffic levels. However, these benefits are likely to vary across local and strategic roads.

The research found that changes to road usage have been more profound than simply a reduction in traffic volumes, as there has also been a major shift in the type of journeys and the reasons for making them.

The report also singled out the Manchester area as being one where the road network may still be particularly congested at peak times post Covid-19, in comparison to other areas in the North of England. This is because the research indicates that many commuters using Manchester’s key roads work in jobs that they cannot carry out remotely.

Atkins and BT will continue to process the data required to analyse the UK’s road usage, both in the short and longer-term.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on all our lives, and some of the new ways of working and living could well become permanent. So, perhaps the days of queuing for long periods in traffic each day will become a distant memory - only time will tell.

For more information and to view the Atkins report visit https://www.snclavalin.com/en/beyond-engineering/rush-hour-a-thing-of-the-past 

Adrian Joseph, MD, Group Data & AI Solutions