Road congestion: it’s time for business to be part of the solution, not the problem

Road congestion: it’s time for business to be part of the solution, not the problem

ROAD congestion is one of the major problems facing businesses, yet businesses are one of the major causes of road congestion.

It’s a dilemma too few in business are comfortable facing up to, but BusinessTime in Essex believes it’s time to face the unpalatable – which is why we are launching our campaign: 2020 Vision: For a Clearer Road Ahead.

The chaotic scenes witnessed across Essex every workday morning and evening (rather ironically called rush-hour!) are the result of huge numbers of people making journeys to work and back, a good number of which are no longer necessary. They’re unnecessary because when these commuters arrive at their workplace, they carry out a role which they could carry out equally effectively from an office at home

Advances in communication technology these past 20 years or so has transformed the way we can work. Vast numbers of people could now carry out their job as effectively from a home-office as from a company office, if not for the whole week, certainly for part of it. All that is required is a change of mentality from those on high – a mentality based on trust and not on suspicion, because we all know this is the crux of the matter.

It is mentality, not practicality, which is keeping us locked in a 19th century working practice straightjacket as we enter the third decade of the 21st century.

Well, BusinessTime in Essex believes it is time to be visionary: to change the mentality, remove the straightjacket and see a clearer road ahead – a clearer road which will benefit everyone, with less congestion, less pollution and more flexible working enabling a greater work-life balance for many.

We aren’t so naive to suggest overnight most of the working population can debunk to their sofa with a laptop. Many jobs necessitate being in work premises. Some employees who could carry out their role from a home office might not wish to do so, for many reasons. However, there would still be tens of thousands who would relish carrying out their role from home.

So, here’s the challenge 2020 Vision: For a Clearer Road Ahead is setting the Essex business community. During 2020, we want to see as many businesses as possible offer at least 20% of their workforce the opportunity to work at least 20% of their week from home.

Taking the Essex workforce as 743,000-strong (figures from Invest ESSEX), 20% of the workforce would be 148,600 and if they each spent 20% of their week working from home, it would save nearly 60,000 car journeys (assuming a morning and evening journey) every week across Essex. Allowing for five weeks holiday, that’s a staggering 2,820,000 car journeys removed from the county’s roads every year. That’s a great start to making our roads less congested.

What is the alternative to this visionary approach? Build more roads? Not really.

No matter how many ridiculously expensive road improvement projects are planned and instigated, the truth is there are simply far too many cars making far too many journeys on far too few roads on this small island of ours – and extending one stretch of road from one to two lanes for a half a mile or another from two to three is not going to make a blind bit of difference in the long-run. If you expand people’s ability to travel, they will do it more. Making driving easier means people take more trips in the car than they otherwise would. This increase in travel quickly uses up any extra capacity improved infrastructure might bring. As a result, traffic levels and congestion remain constant.

No, the answer to clearer roads is not more roads, it is less car journeys. So, let’s make a start and show how business can become part of the solution.

Through the columns and website of BusinessTime in Essex during the coming year, 2020 Vision: For a Clearer Road Ahead wants to encourage and spread good practice when it comes to promoting more flexible and, specifically, home working. We want to hear from you if you:

  • have views on how more flexible and home working can be part of the solution
  • have a specific idea for enabling home working
  • run/own a company which is already embarking on encouraging home working. Let us know how you have gone about it and what have been the results.

Ultimately, if you succeed in achieving our 2020 target of having at least 20% of your workforce working at least 20% of their week from home, we want to hear from you – and we’ll herald you for becoming part of the solution!

In forthcoming issues of BusinessTime, we’ll report on views and progress being made and on our website, , we’ll have a section dedicated to news and views from the campaign.

Whatever the size of your business, whether you are in the private or public sector, let’s all come together and make a difference. Let’s share thoughts and ideas.

Who knows where it will lead? In July, Faversham and Mid Kent MP, Helen Whately, introduced an admittedly ambitious Ten-Minute Rule Bill before Parliament which said flexible working should be the default position for all employees, rather than it being up to individuals to request. Its progress was limited but the thought was there.

Further afield, in March, the Finnish Parliament passed the new Working Hours Act of Finland. The Act will enter into force on January 1 2020 and aims to create prerequisites for flexible working time, replacing the concept of a ‘workplace’ with a more neutral concept ‘working place’. The new Act seeks to better address the current ways of working. In practice this means that the working hours will no longer be tied to a specific place of work, but rather working hours will mean time spent working. This will significantly ease the agreements concerning work done from home.

We’re maybe getting ahead of ourselves here a little, but it shows that more flexible working practices are the future – and more flexible working practice is a prerequisite to reducing the number of car journeys being made to work and back every day.

So, do you want to continue being part of the very problem we all spend so much of our time cursing – or do you want to become part of the solution? Remember, the longest journey begins with the smallest steps – so let’s start making those steps.

Send your views, plans and good practice examples to me at – and let’s show the world that Essex has the vision to create a clearer road ahead.