Despite decrees and master plans designed to lessen rush hour problems, a sad statistic remains: in this allegedly regimented, bureaucratic city, nearly 130,000 commuters arrive at the office each day at the same time! That is 8:30 a.m., or thereabouts.
But if federal officials, industry-types and regional government brass do what they are thinking of doing, thousands of Washington area residents may soon come in earlier-or later-to save fuel, and lure riders to the bus and subway.
Ironically this inward bound drive of salaried lemmings that clog buses and turn subway cars (at peak rush hour) into sardine cans isn't all Uncle Sam's fault. Or the fault of those who work for him!
Some of the worst metro jams regularly take place at Connecticut and K Sts. NW, or in Arlington where "minority" group members-that is private workers-outnumber government employes.
Use of public transportation has jumped since the mini-fuel crisis hit this area.But it is quickly reaching its saturation point, because too many people are trying get on board at the same time.
The vehicles, system and number of bus and subway drivers simply were not designed to move most the population of a sprawling area from one point to another within a 30-minute time frame. We don't have enough of anything to get everybody where they want to go if they all have to be there at the same time.
Federal agencies have done a relatively good job-better than industry-of spreading out work hours of employes. And they plan to do more. Several major operations are considering new starting times, as early as 7:15 a.m., for employes. Others now locked into the 8:30 a.m. startup may move people to 8 a.m. or tell them not to report until 9 a.m.
The Metropolitan Area Transit Authority hopes to draw more people to buses and subways-and out of private cars-with less crowded service. But the key, in addition to more rolling stock and more drivers, is more efficient staggering of hours.
Officials estimate it could take up to three months to have more drivers trained, and up to 9 months before they had enough new or reconditioned buses to drive.
While Washington considers ways to get people downtwon and back again, minus their cars, Denver is going to do something about it. In June several federal agencies there will shift over to a four-day week. Employes will put in 10 hours and, in most cases, get a 3-day weekend.
Denver's problem-in addition to a gas shortage-is air pollution. Officials there believe they can save thousands of gallons of fuel daily if they eliminate one day of round-trip commuting within the 28,000 member federal community.
Washington officials, at this point, are not considering the four-day week either to solve air pollution problems or cut down on gasoline usage. Some fear that-unless the third day off was taken in mid-week-the four-day week could send thousands of people regularly racing to the beach or mountains. That would help our air pollution, but wouldn't do much for the folks in Winchester or Rehoboth, and might result in more gasoline consumption. At least that is what officials think.
Some officials believe that the four-day week might actually increase gas consumption if it gave people more free time.
So the outlook now is for the federal four-day week to remain a Denver plan. We may have less crowded public transport. And President Carter-who has already ordered higher non-VIP parking fees-may soon direct agencies to stagger more. But any big change could be delayed until fall, when higher federal parking fees go into effect for all but high-ranking officials and members of Congress who continue to be kept isolated from the day-to-day problems of getting to work.