Making Commuting Work in the Age of the “New Normal”

commuting in the new normal

U.S. and international organizations continue to advance their reopening plans as businesses migrate back to onsite operations and educational institutions return to in-person learning. Naturally, this has prompted corresponding increases in highway traffic volumes. It has also been the catalyst for an uptick in public transportation usage.

The return t0 activity on highways, commuter rail networks, buses, and subways also signals a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Employers, institutions, and commuters all have the chance to reimagine their pre-pandemic routines and adapt them to the “new normal.” This has exciting potential implications for the future of commuting.

Hybrid Work Policies: A Window of Opportunity

Hybrid work policies appear to be here to stay: they enjoy high levels of popularity among people teams and can be configured to advance organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. For employers, there is a strong business case for making hybrid work a prominent part of their reconfigured set of commuter policies.

First, hybrid work holds the potential to make a meaningful impact on road congestion and its associated environmental downsides if applied on a mass scale. Rethinking the old 9-to-5 routine could also help relieve crowds during peak times on public transportation networks. This stands to improve service quality and reduce maintenance and infrastructure costs.

Second, hybrid work policies also give employers an advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. As evidenced by the Big Quit phenomenon, workers simply are not satisfied with going back to the old way of doing things. Businesses that embrace rather than resist calls for more flexibility put themselves in an excellent position to scoop up high-performing workers seeking a better work-life balance.

The “Fresh Start Effect” and the Future of Commuting

Workplace and institutional reopenings also align with a phenomenon known in social psychology as the “fresh start effect.” The concept of the fresh start effect observes that many people plan changes in their routines and behaviors around calendar-based markers, like “Monday,” “the first of the month,” “when spring comes,” “after my birthday,” or “the new year.”

The post-pandemic return to physical spaces and in-person interaction is exactly the kind of major event that can serve as a large-scale “fresh start.” It offers an opportunity to move beyond established habits and reimagine the future of commuting in more sustainable ways.

This applies on both the macro and micro levels. For individuals, the “fresh start” phenomenon is often a dynamic thing. Many people have different routines on different days of the week, due to commitments outside of work, school, and other quotidian activities. To this end, every day can function as a kind of micro “fresh start” that allows a person to explore modes of commuting beyond their normal default (which, for many, is solo driving).

The COVID-19 pandemic was a big, paradigm-shattering fresh start event, and organizations should not overlook its potential to yield a personal-scale trickle-down effect throughout their commuter bases. Yes, it’s true that time pressures and ingrained habits often result in people sticking with their default commuting mode in the interests of convenience and time savings. Organizations that go above and beyond to provide their community members with effective alternatives stand the best chance of making a positive impact.

To that end, commuter perks, benefits, and incentives can have an enormously beneficial effect.

The Power of Commuter Incentives

Commuter incentive programs give team members social and financial incentives for making more regular use of alternatives to solo driving. In thinking about the future of commuting, employers should certainly prioritize incentive programs as part of their organizational commuter management strategy.

Here’s why:

  • Car-based commuting is a costly proposition. Shifting commuters toward shared modes holds the potential to yield significant cost savings. It is very expensive to rent or build and maintain parking facilities. Fewer people driving to the worksite means fewer parking-related expenses.
  • Job-seekers expect more from their employers. Right now, qualified and talented people seeking jobs have a decisive advantage. Businesses that go above and beyond to offer more than just the standard perks stand a better chance of landing appealing candidates. Building commuter incentives into an employee benefits program signals an organizational commitment to sustainability and offering a better work-life balance. Recent survey data suggests a positive work-life balance is more valuable than money to many job-seekers.
  • Sustainability is about more than organizational branding. At the same time, some organizations are jumping on the sustainability bandwagon as a branding exercise. While every bit helps, a genuine commitment to reducing road congestion and carbon emissions stands a greater chance of making a stronger impact. Commuter incentives are known to work when it comes to encouraging mode-shift, which is why transportation demand management professionals value them so highly.
  • Commuter programs give employees time to take a breath. The post-pandemic landscape has made it clear that the future of commuting will share strong links with employee health and wellness and promoting a more favorable work-life balance. Shared and active modes allow commuters to use travel time to a positive end: it can double as daily exercise for those who walk or bike, provide an opportunity to take care of administrative tasks that can hamper productivity, or simply function as a buffer zone between “work mode” and “life mode.” Most of these benefits are unattainable to those stuck in traffic behind a steering wheel.

Workplace commuter programs and policies can have a profound impact on commuters’ individual choices. Because incentive programs are so effective, they often function as major drivers of change.

 Pave Commute Can Guide Your Organization’s Transition to the Future of Commuting

The future of commuting is emerging quickly in the face of the singular opportunity presented by workplace and institutional reopenings. If you’re seeking ways to help your business or organization do more to meet the changing needs of your commuter base, Pave Commute can help with science-based insights and powerful tech tools. To learn more, please get in touch.

Kathryn Hagerman Medina

Kathryn Hagerman Medina

Head of Success & Marketing at RideAmigos | Changing the way the world commutes for good.
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