In the previous post one of my jokes was that we should move to a 4-day work week in summer time to help reduce fuel oil consumption.
I added to it that the work day should only be 9 hours long instead of 10. In effect, this would reduce the summer work week from 40-hours to 36 hours, but on 4 days instead of 5.
The benefit of this would be to reduce commuting gas consumption by 1 day per week per auto now commuting, or by about 20% while reducing the number of hours worked in the week by 4 or 10%.
It was initially a joke, but here is our chance to think about it. Is this such a far flung idea?
First, let's look at the idea of a four-hour per week cut in working hours since that would make the whole plan more workable. Ten hour workdays are long. Even with an extra day off per week, they are very hard. Nine on the other hand are not so bad.
An 8 to 4:30 day would become 8 to 5:30. Dinner would be later, but not horribly so. This would be offset by an extra day without work and commuting.
Next. Say most American's commute at least 1 hour per day round trip. In Chicago, many commute 2 -3 hours per day. So, losing one day's commute nearly entirely covers the longer days at work. In essence, by working longer four days a week the length of one day's total commute, many workers will then save not only the day worked, but that day's commute as well.
Now, for this to work, legislation would also be required so that full-time employee status/perks would not be lost by working 36 instead of 40 hours in the summer. There would be expenses required in altering payroll and accounting software to do this, but this has to be compared to the vast sums in fuel costs saved both in immediate savings at the pump, and in lowered prices because of lowered international demand.
While we may no longer be the whole international fuel consumption story anymore, a drop in U.S. fuel consumption caused by a 20% decline in auto commuting mileage might very well have a significant effect on gas prices.
Why do this in summer? To start with there are two big reasons.
In summer time the amount of sunlight available here is much greater. You work an extra hour a day and there is still plenty of sunlight left when you get home to spend time with the kids, your family, or your online connection. In winter, it will just be darker.
Also, as a summer program, the day off will be in the nicest weather of the year, when people are most inclined to play hooky and take spontaneous days off anyway. This program might actually help reduce summer absenteeism and help employers save money on their benefits packages.
How do we decide who gets to take what day off? Good question. One could argue that for maximum efficiency at the workplace everyone should take the same day off, Monday, Wednesday or Friday. In this way it will seem to the rest of the U.S. as if nothing has changed. We all start and stop at once and everyone is there when everyone needs us there for work reasons.
There is at least one disadvantage to this method however, it does not maximize fuel savings in areas with dense auto traffic. In areas like Chicago it would be much better for people to pick their own day off each week of the five, or rotate them, so that the reduction in normal summer auto commute traffic is spread through the week. Spreading out the reduction in auto traffic across the days of the week would reduce traffic congestion to its maximum and reduce gas wasted by stop and go traffic patterns.
A flaw in the system could be, let's be honest, is that if traffic gets too light that it might encourage those who use public transportation to drive instead because the hassles of driving are reduced.
However, this might be offset by reduced crowding on Public Transportation vehicles during commuting times. Making public transportation more comfortable and reliable since most schedule delays such as bus bunching occur due to unexpected overcrowding on a bus route. System planners would have to take into account that the commute flows would be longer, but the work schedules for transit workers already put more vehicles out in the early evening than are needed to complete an 8 hour day for transit workers.
Yep, there's a complex problem, how do you handle the 36-hour week for employees in jobs like bus and train operator? Carefully at first. Though they already hire summer help since most transit workers want to take a vacation in the summer just like everybody else. They may just wind up "picking" their summer work schedules just like they do now. With as little flexibility as they do now, but with the same degree of reliability for themselves.
Oh, that leads to the overtime question. When does it kick in? After 36 hours or 40? Good question. I think that might have to depend on business size. But since employers would be gaining some efficiency by having workers focused on a more limited number of days and being able to alter hiring during the summer to use workstations differently, having 10-15% more employees if they desire without increasing office space, it might be that over 9 hours in a day where all 36 were worked would have to be the rule. However, to what degree should we discourage employers from creating 5th day overtime among salaried employees.
A lot I should think. But then again, we are in an economic system that encourages many extra hours and hard work. So perhaps for exempt employees this does not make sense at all. But perhaps, at least for one season a year, it should.
Well, some initial thoughts on a modest proposal, more modest than that one by Jonathan Swift at any rate. Easier to swallow too.
Oh, we could combine it with another idea I had, legislated 40% parking discounts for those who show up with 3 riders in a parking lot in downtown areas that are in ozone non-attainment zones. Or wherever air pollution is bad. There might have to be some kind of tax rebate to garage operators to help pay for this, but the benefits in reduced auto usage would be substantial.
What are your thoughts on this. I'm looking for ideas to help make something work. Not catcalls on why all ideas are doomed to fail. What better ideas do you have?
Oh, yes, if people are at home one day a week they may do some driving as well. But home-based non-work trips tend to be a lot shorter than driving to work commuter trips so probably the gas usage will be lower. The emissions might not because of something called the "cold start" phenomenon. Of course, if the weather is really sweltering, getting the auto engine up to maximum fuel efficiency should be a lot quicker in the summer in cold areas than in the winter.
It is so nice that the nice warm weather is starting to be regular here!
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