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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 a day—once in the morning and once in the evening, the times during when the most people commute. The term is very broad but often refers to specifically 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.
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 flow. Typically, rush hour is 6–10 am (06:00–10:00) and 4–6 pm (16:00–18:00). Some places may experience another, less frantic, lunchtime rush hour from noon to 2 pm (14:00).
The frequency of public transport 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 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. This can make public transport less attractive, leading to higher car use, 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 habits so as to minimize congestion. Similarly, public transport fares may be higher; this is usually presented as an off peak discount for single fares, though season tickets or multi-ride tickets, commonly used in rush hours by commuters, are sold at a discount.
In Australia, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and in New Zealand, Auckland and Christchurch are usually the most congested cities in the morning between 6 am and 9 am, and 4:30 pm and 7 pm. 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.
In Sydney congestion is managed by many means including:
Public transport increase the amount of vehicles on the network
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
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 am to 10 am and 5 pm to 8 pm). 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 and by hundreds of traffic cameras backed by computerized image-recognition systems that issue tickets to offending drivers. 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 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.
In the capital city of Athens the rush hours are usually 7.00 to 10.00 and 16.00 to 19.00. 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.
For trains in the Netherlands there is an off-peak discount available, giving a 40% discount. Its validity starts at 09:00 (until 4:00 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 7 am to 7 pm. Unlike the public vehicles, the private vehicles have a five-hour window exception which runs from 10 am to 3 pm. 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 London, Peak Day Travelcards allow travel at all hours. Off-peak Day Travelcards are 20-50% cheaper but are valid for travel only after 9:30 am 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 between 7 am and 6 pm.
In Manchester, the Metrolink light rail system offers single, return and 'Metromax' daysaver tickets at a reduced price when they are purchased after 9:30 am. 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 10:00 (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 and WMATA serving Washington, D.C. – often charge riders a higher fare ("peak fares") for travel during the morning and evening rush hour.
Rush hour times can range from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. in cities like New York City. New York commuters have to be on the road by at least 6 a.m. because traffic gets heavy between 6:30 and 9:30 a.m. Many train commuters leave early to get the best seats on the trains, because by 7 a.m. 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 rush hour is 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. is the peak of Cleveland's rush hour. 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.
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 6 a.m. 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 improved expressway traffic within Boston's city limits.
Cities such as Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., 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..
The term the 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.
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.