Here's why morning rush hour has returned when many are still working from home

By Ethan Shone
Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 9:39 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 9:40 am
Here's why morning rush hour has returned when many are still working from home (Photo: Shutterstock)
Here's why morning rush hour has returned when many are still working from home (Photo: Shutterstock)

The morning rush hour has returned, with traffic levels back at the same levels as in January, according to analysis by RAC insurance.

For many people, not having to navigate bustling motorways and contend with busy roads every morning throughout the pandemic has been one of very few silver linings, but analysis from the RAC shows that this is one area of life that might be returning to normal sooner than we’d like.

How do we know?

Data collected from drivers with black box devices fitted shows that the beginning of the school year in England has caused a significant rise in cars on the road, with the busiest hour - 8am to 9am - coinciding with school drop off time.

The number of cars on the road in the second week of September, when most schools had reopened, was up 41 per cent compared with the last week of August. The average amount of weekday traffic between 8am and 9am in that week was the same as on an average weekday in January.

Why has rush hour come back?

The data suggests that the school run has a greater impact on road traffic levels than commuting, seeing as traffic has returned to pre-pandemic levels while many people are still working from home.

It could also be the case that schools’ decision to operate staggered drop off times is driving up the amount of traffic on the roads, and extending the ‘rush hour’.

RAC Insurance spokesperson Rod Dennis said, “While schools reopening was always going to lead to a rise in vehicle traffic, the fact that between a fifth and a third of the UK workforce is still working remotely shows just what role the school drop-off plays in creating the phenomenon we know as the morning ‘rush hour’.

“What’s abundantly apparent is how dependent parents are on the car for getting children to their places of study or play during the week – and with fewer people prepared to take public transport at the moment, the reliance on the car as the transport mode of choice has increased.

“Workers that used to drop children off and then carry on to offices or other workplaces are clearly still using their cars for these trips, but just returning home again instead. It may also be the case that many are opting for the car so they can be back at their desks to start work as promptly as possible.

“The million-dollar question, of course, is what happens next and whether morning road traffic continues to rise in the autumn, or whether it stays at the sort of level we’re seeing now. The rising number of coronavirus cases, together with the introduction of local lockdowns and the threat of new nationwide restrictions, may also have an impact on people’s willingness to return to public transport.”