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Is the AM Peak a Thing of the Past?

Diving into how flexible work schedules are impacting Columbus, OH, and Philadelphia, PA

October 3, 2023
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As the the Washington Post recently highlighted, the standard 9 to 5 is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Whether leaving early for an appointment or avoiding the morning rush hour, what used to be a rigid commute has been replaced, for many office workers, by a more flexible schedule. As this new workday evolves, only time will tell if it is a permanent state or is a temporary blip during the shift towards a new normal.

Here at Replica, we know that national trends, while illustrative, cannot be solely relied upon for long term planning. There is simply too much regional variance within the US. What holds true in Minneapolis won’t necessarily be the case in Miami, and vice versa. Therefore, it can be far more informative to analyze changes at smaller geographic levels, so that we can surface location-specific insights. Replica’s data can help do just that.

To do this, we looked at all weekday trips to and from work in 2019 and 2023. While Replica data is produced nationwide and can be analyzed for any town or city, we zoomed in on Columbus, OH and Philadelphia, PA to highlight that we can cover areas that may not get as much national news coverage.

Between these two cities, we see a clear difference in how work commute patterns have changed from 2019 to 2023.

In the Columbus metropolitan area, where downtown foot traffic recovered as quick as any city in the U.S., work commute patterns seem to have only shifted slightly from pre-COVID. Morning trips have shifted slightly later, with workers going into the office later in the morning than in 2019. In the evening, patterns have not changed much. A slightly higher share of Columbus workers in 2023 are staying at work later or leaving for home earlier, likely reflecting increased flexibility in work patterns, but not in substantial numbers.

Conversely, in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, we see much larger differences in commute behavior between 2019 and 2023. Trips to work have spread out beyond the previous 7AM-8AM peak period, while trips home from work are no longer as confined to the 4PM-6PM window that they previously were. While the differences look small as percentages, shifting these journeys around throughout the day means moving over 100,000 trips per day to other times and places. This could lead to substantial downstream impacts on transit scheduling, road maintenance, and congestion management.

Although high-level national trends can surface interesting stories, sound policy ultimately relies on contemporary, local data. Because Replica models mobility down to the block level, we can show how cities are evolving in this new COVID-affected world. Columbus and Philadelphia are just two examples of this. At Replica, we believe that every public agency should have access to this level of data and insights.

Log in to your Replica account today to start analyzing Spring 2023 commuting data. Not yet a customer? Get in touch here to schedule a demo.

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