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A rush hour or peak hour is a part of the day during which traffic congestion on roads and crowding on public transport is at its highest. Normally, this happens twice every weekday—once in the morning and once in the evening, the times during when the most people commute. The term is often used for a period of peak congestion that may last for more than one hour.
The term is very broad, but often refers specifically to private automobile transportation traffic, even when there is a large volume of cars on a road but not a large number of people, or if the volume is normal but there is some disruption of speed. By analogy to vehicular traffic, the term Internet rush hour has been used to describe periods of peak data network usage, resulting in delays and slower delivery of data packets.
The name is sometimes a misnomer, as the peak period often lasts more than one hour and the "rush" refers to volume of traffic, not rate of its flow. Rush hour is from 6–10am (06:00–10:00) and 4–8 pm (16:00–20:00). Peak traffic periods may vary from city to city, from region to region, and seasonally.
The frequency of public transport service is usually higher in the rush hour, and longer trains, or larger vehicles are often employed. However, the increase in capacity is often less than the increased number of passengers, due to the limits on available vehicles, staff and, in the case of rail transport, track capacity including platform length. The resulting crowding may force many passengers to stand, and others may be unable to board. If there is inadequate capacity, this can make public transport less attractive, leading to higher car use and partly shifting the congestion to roads.
Transport demand management, such as road pricing or a congestion charge, is designed to induce people to alter their travel timing to minimize congestion. Similarly, public transport fares may be higher during peak periods; this is often presented as an off peak discount for single fares. Season tickets or multi-ride tickets, sold at a discount, are commonly used in rush hours by commuters, and may or may not reflect rush hour fare differentials.
Traffic management by country
Australia and New Zealand
In Australia, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and in New Zealand, Auckland and Christchurch are usually the most congested cities in the morning 6–9am, and 4:30–7pm. In Melbourne the Monash Freeway, which connects Melbourne's suburban sprawl, to the city is usually heavily congested each morning and evening. In Perth, Thomas Road between Nicholson Road and Tonkin Highway is almost always congested due to a large amount of roadworks on this stretch.
Efforts to minimise traffic congestion during peak hour vary on a state by state and city by city basis.
In Melbourne, congestion is managed by means including:
- Inbound transit lanes on busy freeways which are limited to motorcycles and other vehicles with more than one occupant during busy periods.
- Free travel on metropolitan trains before 7am. Passengers must exit the system at their destination station before 7am.
- Dedicated bus lanes on major inner city roads such as Hoddle Street.
- Introduction of dedicated bicycle lanes (often by removing vehicle lanes) in the inner city area to encourage cyclists and deter dual-track vehicles.
- Prohibition of parking along busy roads during peak traffic periods to create an extra lane for traffic.
In Sydney, congestion is managed by many means including:
Public transport increase the amount of vehicles on the network
- Buses increase from 4 per hour to 12 per hour on the Metrobus network, other routes increase limited and express services
- The largest rail network in Sydney is heavy rail and run double deckers electric multiple unit trains that were introduced in 1972 with the S sets, these have allowed many more passengers to board the trains compared to the 1950s single level 'Red Rattlers', and 'Silver Ghosts'.
- Time of day ticket prices allow train commuters to board trains before 6am or after 7pm at a cheaper rate on single or day return tickets
- T Ways where built in Sydney during 2008–2010, these are dedicated roads for buses, and connect major employment centres with the suburban sprawl
- ClearWays project allows for broken down trains on the CityRail network to not effect the running of trains on separate lines due to building bypasses, and loop backs alongside the existing track.
Traffic congestion is managed through the Traffic Management Centre via a network of Closed Circuit TV's, with operators able to change the timing, and follow of traffic signals to reduce wait times
- Most major motorways have the ability for Contra-flow to allow continuing flow of traffic in case of a major accident
- Transit Lanes are installed on most major arterial roads, these lanes require a minimum amount of people in the car to be used, an example is T2 require the driver, and 1 passenger to drive in the lane
- Dedicated bus lanes, where buses, taxi, and private rental cars are only allowed to drive, this reduces congestion with set down, and pick up of passengers, and normal commuters
- Older motor ways have been upgraded from 2 lanes in each direction, to 3 lanes in each direction
- Motor way toll booths have been replaced with electronic toll systems (Hills M2 was the last to do so on 21 January 2012); time of day tolling is in use on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Sydney Harbour Tunnel to provide cash incentives for commuters to remain out of the city in peak times.
In São Paulo, Brazil, each vehicle is assigned a certain day of the week in which it cannot travel the roads during rush hour (7–10am and 5–8pm). The day of the week for each vehicle is derived from the last digit in the licence plate number and the rule is enforced by traffic police. This policy is aimed at reducing the number of vehicles on the roads and encouraging the use of buses, subway and the urban train systems.
In the pico y placa (peak and license plate) program in Bogotá, drivers of non-commercial automobiles are prevented from driving them during rush hours on certain days of the week. The vehicles barred each day are determined by the last digit of their license plate. The measure is mandatory and those who break it are penalized. The digits banned each day are rotated every year.
In the capital city of Athens the rush hours are usually 7–10am and 4–7pm. During these periods there is congestion in the Athens Mass Transit System, most notably in buses and metro, as well as road traffic. The 6-car trains of Athens Metro carries almost 1.5 million passengers during a typical week day.
In Japan, the proportion of rail transportation is high compared with the use of automobiles. Rail transport accounts for 27% of all passenger transport in Japan (other examples: Germany (7.7%), United Kingdom (6.4%), United States (0.6%)). In the Greater Tokyo Area and the Keihanshin metropolitan area there is a dense rail network and frequent service, which accounts for more than half of the passenger transport; most people in the area commute by public transport without using cars.
Railways in the Greater Tokyo Area are severely congested. This is gradually being improved by increasing rail capacity and expanding Home Liner and bi-level Green car (First-class) services so that more people can commute in comfort without additional cost. But it is still common on major lines in Tokyo for more than 3,000 passengers to be packed in a 10-car train, and about 100,000 passengers to be transported per hour (usually, the maximum capacity of double-track commuter rail in Japan is 10-car trains at two-minute intervals), presumably one of the most congested railways in the world.
In road transport, Expressways of Japan is operated by on a beneficiaries-pay principle which imposes expensive toll fees, having the effect of reducing road traffic. Electronic toll collection (ETC) is widespread and discounts during low-traffic periods has been introduced to disperse traffic over a wider period than the rush hour. Road pricing is being considered but has not been introduced, partly because the expressway fee is already very high.
For trains in the Netherlands there is an off-peak discount available, giving a 40% discount. Its validity starts at 9am (until 4am the next morning) on weekdays, and all day at weekends and in July and August. In the case of a group of up to four people, all get the discount even if only one has a pass.
Rail passes not requiring an additional ticket come in two versions: for a fixed route, and for the whole network. Both are mainly used by commuters. No off-peak discount version of these passes is offered since there is insufficient demand; commuters usually cannot avoid the rush hour.
Inside Metro Manila, the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program, popularly known as the Number Coding Scheme, was implemented by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. The program stipulates that vehicles are prohibited from plying all roads within the metropolis, depending on the last digit of their license plates and on the day of the week.
The vehicles are banned from 7am–7pm. Unlike the public vehicles, the private vehicles have a five-hour window exception which runs from 10am–3pm. However the cities of Makati and San Juan do not implement the five-hour window.
This table shows the license plates with numbers ending with its corresponding days:
|1 and 2||Monday|
|3 and 4||Tuesday|
|5 and 6||Wednesday|
|7 and 8||Thursday|
|9 and 0||Friday|
Exempted from the program are motorcycles, school buses, shuttle buses, ambulances, fire engines, police cars, military vehicles, those carrying a person needing immediate medical attention, and vehicles with diplomatic license plates.
On the other hand, in other places, there are certain policies the municipal or city government are proposing or has implemented for the whole municipality or city.
In Singapore, there is a free travel scheme before 7:45am and 50 cent discount between 7.45am and 8.00am, which applies only if you exit and not enter at the 18 CBD stations. This is an attempt to encourage commuters' travel on the MRT outside the crowded weekday morning peak. Electronic Road Pricing is intended to discourage driving between 7.30am and 8pm. In addition, employees were given travel incentives through Travel Smart programme. Peak hours are defined as follows: 7:30-9:30am and 5pm-8pm, with different times for terminal stations.
In London, Peak Day Travelcards allow travel at all hours. Off-peak Day Travelcards are 20-50% cheaper but are valid for travel only after 9:30am and on weekends. This is an attempt to encourage commuters' travel on the London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, buses, and trams outside of the crowded weekday morning peak. There is a similar system on Transport (Bus and Tyne and Wear Metro) in the Newcastle upon Tyne area. In London, congestion charges are intended to discourage driving 7am–6pm.
In Manchester, the Metrolink light rail system offers single, return and 'Metromax' daysaver tickets at a reduced price when they are purchased after 9:30am. This incentive is designed to lure passengers into avoiding the daily crowded conditions at Metrolink stations during rush hour.
For Young Persons Railcard holders, the offer of one-third off ticket prices is valid only after 10am (unless a minimum fare is paid) or weekends. This restriction is lifted in July and August, the main summer holiday season.
Efforts to manage transportation demand during rush hour periods vary by state and by metropolitan area. In some states, freeways have designated lanes that become HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle aka car-pooling) only during rush hours, while open to all vehicles at other times. In others, such as the Massachusetts portion of I-93, travel is permitted in the breakdown lane during this time. Several states, including Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin use ramp meters to regulate traffic entering freeways during rush hour. Transportation officials in Colorado and Minnesota have added value pricing to some urban freeways around Denver, the Twin Cities, and Seattle, charging motorists a higher toll during peak periods.
Transit agencies – such as Metro North serving New York City, WMATA serving Washington DC, and BART serving San Francisco – often charge riders a higher fare ("peak fares") for travel during the morning and evening rush hour.
Morning rush hour times can range from 6–10am in cities like New York City. Some New York commuters try to be on the road by at least 6am because traffic gets heavy between 6:30 and 9:30am. Many train commuters leave early to get the best seats on the trains, because by 7am the trains are packed with passengers standing or those who can't get on. Los Angeles, California has several rush hours, including a midnight rush for night workers. Bus and train service (such as Metrolink) in Los Angeles are limited and tend to be underused, but their use is increasing. In the Chicago area people use Metra Trains, the 'L', and buses.
In Cleveland, Ohio or Northeast Ohio morning rush hour is 7–9am, with the peak 7:30–8:30am. Because of Cleveland's compact size, most people can be in Downtown Cleveland within 10–45 minutes. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority runs buses every half hour and some routes have non-stop freeway buses that run during rush hour.
There is also an afternoon rush hour. For example, in the New York City area, the afternoon rush hour can begin as early as 3 p.m. and last until 7 p.m. Some people who live in Connecticut but work in New York often do not arrive home until 7 p.m. or later. On the other hand, in a smaller city like Cleveland, the afternoon rush hour takes place in a more literal sense such that heavy traffic congestion typically only occurs between 5 and 6 p.m. Usually the RTA in Cleveland has an afternoon rush hour schedule like the morning.
The city of Philadelphia is known for its very dangerous Schuylkill Expressway, much of which predates the 1956 introduction of the Interstate Highway System. One of the busiest highways in the country (and state of Pennsylvania) and with the road being highly over capacity, it has become notorious for its chronic congestion, especially during rush hour. Rush hour in Philadelphia is usually as early as 6am, with many in the Delaware Valley using the Schuylkill to reach Central Philadelphia and some of Philadelphia's western suburbs. The rugged terrain, limited riverfront space covered by the route and narrow spans of bridges passing over the highway have largely stymied later attempts to upgrade or widen the highway. An average 163,000 vehicles use the road daily in Philadelphia County, and an average of 109,000 use the highway in Montgomery County. Its narrow lane and left shoulder configuration, left lane entrances and exits (nicknamed "merge or die"), common construction activity and generally congested conditions have led to many accidents, critical injuries and fatalities, leading to the highway's humorous nickname of the "Surekill Expressway" or in further embellishment, "Surekill Distressway".
Boston, Massachusetts, and the larger Greater Boston region, is notorious for traffic congestion due to the region's high population density, outmoded highway system, and the high concentration of corporations with large offices located along major expressways and urban loops (including Route 128, MassPike, I-93, I-495). Despite the region's compact nature, inbound traffic becomes very heavy on all expressways as early as 6am on a typical weekday morning, making an inbound drive from the suburbs as long as 75 minutes. On the other hand, recent improvements brought about as part of the infamous Big Dig project have temporarily improved expressway traffic within Boston's city limits.
Cities such as Atlanta, Houston, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington DC, to name a few, are known for having some of the worst traffic in the country. Los Angeles also has the highest amount of time spent in congestion, followed by Honolulu and Washington D.C..
Third rush hour
The term "third rush hour" has been used to refer to a period of the midday in which roads in urban and suburban areas become congested due to a large number of people taking lunch breaks using their vehicles. These motorists often frequent restaurants and fast food locations, where vehicles crowding the entrances cause traffic congestion. Active senior citizens, who travel by automobile to engage in many midday activities, also contribute to the midday rush hour. Areas which have large school-age populations may also experience added congestion due to the large number of school buses and kiss-and-ride traffic that flood the roads after the lunch rush hour, but before the evening rush hour.
In many European countries (e.g. Germany, Austria, Hungary) the schools are only half-day and many people work only half-time too. This causes a third rush hour around 12:30–2pm. It takes some load from the evening rush hour, and thus makes the morning rush hour the most intense time of the day.
At other times (such as evenings and weekends), additional periods of congestion can be the result of various special events, such as sports games, festivals, or religious services. Out-of-the-ordinary congestion can be the result of an accident, construction, long holiday weekends, or inclement weather.
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- Fehr, Stephen. "Third Rush Hour Squeezes Into Midday; Road Congestion at Lunchtime Rivals Morning, Evening Commutes". The Washington Post. August 12, 1990
- United States Congress. Committee on the District of Columbia. (1977). Hearings, reports and prints of the House Committee on the District of Columbia
- Langdon, Philip. (1994). A better place to live: reshaping the American suburb. University of Massachusetts. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-87023-914-4