Experience in different countries
The first experiment with staggered working hours appears to have been carried out in 1955 in Metz (France). It had been found that the number of vehicles in the town's public transport system that were not operating during the greater part of the day was more than three times the number needed for a regular normal flow of the service. The extra vehicles were used only to carry passengers at the peak periods when everybody went home for lunch at noon and left again for work or school at 2 p.m. Estimates based on the rate of population growth showed that the fleet of vehicles would have to be further increased by a substantial amount. It was decided that staggering of journeys both ways for workers and for school children was needed if the available transport was to be properly used. Following a vigorous campaign, agreement was reached and children started to go home and return to school 15 minutes earlier than before, and factory, shop and office workers 15 minutes later. The first tangible result was that the transport corporation was able to save the price of ten vehicles and did not have to raise fares.4
Other experiments were made in France two years later, for example in Strasbourg and Dijon, after surveys directed by the Productivity Commission in the winter of 1957-58. In Strasbourg the change was made the other way round. Lunch hours for offices were put back by 15 minutes. Those for schools were brought forward by the same amount as it had been found that school children liked to dawdle in the town instead of going straight home, where they would in any case have had to wait for their parents' return. The change of hours had other good effects. In Strasbourg, traffic flowed more freely, there was a 37 per cent increase in public transport users and there was no congestion despite a substantial increase in traffic. In Dijon the number of travel-related accidents declined.5
Figure 3 illustrates the ebb and flow of passengers at 10-minute intervals in Strasbourg before and after hours were staggered.
We have been speaking of the problems of scheduling of working hours in medium-sized towns; they must be infinitely greater in huge conurbations like Paris, London or New York.
When they are tackled, experience shows that all representative groups in the community must be consulted: management and labour in factories, shops and offices, technical staff of the passenger transport companies, local authorities, etc. In the search for solutions which represent the best compromise between the preferences and dislikes of different groups, it is often necessary to set up working parties of statisticians, economists, town planners, sociologists, doctors, psychologists and others to consider all aspects of the question. Nor should it be forgotten that each city has its own individuality which must be taken into consideration in any prospective plans and solutions.
In the light of the different factors and interests involved, a study recommended the adoption of the following schedules for Greater Paris.1
Efforts to stagger hours in other countries have met with varying success. In the United Kingdom, a scheme worked out in Sunderland in 1957 has been fairly successful. In London, however, a number of attempts have been made since 1920 to stagger working hours but without much success. A committee for staggering working hours in Central London set up by the Minister of Transport in 1957 was able to persuade only a small minority of firms to introduce different hours. Of those that refused, 72 per cent thought that business efficiency would be reduced; and 23 per cent feared that staggered hours would make it more difficult to recruit and retain staff because employees objected to unusual starting and finishing times - which was surprising since it was common knowledge that "super peak" traffic occurred between 8.45 and 9 a.m. and between 5.30 and 5.45 p.m., and that working in London was considered as particularly tiring because of this.
By 1961, in spite of campaigns over a long period, only about 57,000 out of 1 million persons travelling daily to London, with journey-to-work times averaging over 30 minutes, were working staggered hours.2
In the United States, a breakdown of the working population by times of work in 1973-74 indicated travel peaks around 8 a.m. with 26 million persons involved (nearly two-fifths of the working population) and 4 p.m. with 37 million (over half the working population). The 4 p.m. peak was larger because 4 million other full-time or part-time workers began work at that time. The position is illustrated in figure 4.
This has naturally led to staggering of hours or the introduction of flexible working time as the only solutions. In Manhattan, for example, where traditional hours were 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., staggered hours starting and finishing 30 minutes earlier or later have been in effect since 1970 in 400 firms, covering 220,000 workers, or some 60 per cent of wage earners.
Successful results have also apparently been achieved in Washington, Tokyo and Osaka.
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