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Work/Life: Houston’s “Flex in the City” Takes Commuting Into the 21st Century

It seems I’m not the only one asking the question from my blog post a couple of weeks ago, “Why do we all commute at the same time?” Not only are others asking the question, but they are doing something about it! FC Expert Blog readers shared examples of organizations rethinking how we commute in the comments section of the post—thank you! One was about staggered shifts at Boeing in Seattle, and the other about IBM in Germany where there are no set hours.

It seems I’m not the only one asking the question from my blog post a couple of weeks ago, “Why do we all commute at the same time?” Not only are others asking the question, but they are doing something about it!

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FC Expert Blog readers shared examples of organizations rethinking how we commute in the comments section of the post—thank you! One was about staggered shifts at Boeing in Seattle, and the other about IBM in Germany where there are no set hours.

But companies aren’t alone in trying to bring commuting into the 21st Century. Communities are also recognizing the benefits of using flexibility to save money and resources that are currently wasted during our daily “mass” commute.

Yesterday, when I was having lunch with my former boss Ellen Galinsky, President of Families and Work Institute she mentioned the City of Houston’s “Flex in the City” initiative. The goal of Flex in the City (love that name!) is to get companies and individuals in Houston to use flexibility at the same time for one week in September to reduce the number of people commuting during the traditional rush hour period. The city’s 2006 Flex in the City effort resulted in an estimated $16.8 million savings. Here’s a description of the initiative from the City of Houston’s website:

2007 Flex in the City is an opportunity for Houston area employers to try flexible work options. Employers are asked to adopt an additional flex option that eliminates at least one peak commute between September 17 – 28. During which time employers measure the effect on productivity – when the right employees, in the right jobs, practice the right flexible work option(s). At the same time the Houston measures the effects on mobility. By moving a relatively small number of cars off the roads during peak congestion periods, a measurable improvement in mobility can and will be realized. A savings of 906 peak-commute hours were experienced as a result of the 2006 Flex in the City on both the North and Southwest Freeways. This time saving translates into $16.8 million annual user cost savings.”

Houston will be recognized for their efforts this year as one of the When Work Works community-based honorees. (When Work Works is an award program overseen by Families and Work Institute and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan and Twiga Foundations that recognizes the innovative use of flexibility strategies in organizations and communities across the country.)

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Houston, Boeing and IBM can’t be alone. There have to be more examples of new, more flexible commuting models out there. FC Expert Blog readers let’s put our heads together and keep gathering stories as a way to promote more change.

It can’t happen too soon. I was reading an article in this week’s Newsweek magazine that estimated, “more than 4 in 10 Americans are on the move during a two-hour window each weekday,” and “on average, Americans sit in traffic for 38 hours a year wasting an estimated 26 gallons of gas per person.” That doesn’t even include the estimated waste in human time and energy from waiting and stress.

Maybe the “rush hour” commute will become a relic of the past faster than I’d hoped.

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