Recently Richard Branson created a stir by saying that it was ‘a mistake’ that most employers were not encouraging telecommuting, working at home and flexible working hours.

At the same time, I was interviewed by two journalists in Perth about the potential, and pitfalls, of car-pooling.

The Gatton Institute’s book City Limits says the distance between where people live and where they work is growing fast and the daily commute is getting longer, putting pressure on social and family life and driving up living costs. According to the media, many of us are spending more than 15 hours a week, every week, sitting in our cars literally stuck in traffic congestion, whilst the average family now spends more time sitting in the car than they do around the dining table.

Why aren’t we telecommuting, working at home, working flexible hours and car-pooling?

Matthew Dunstan, author of The Coworking Revolution: Four Secrets to Successfully Working for Yourself, said we have a programmed work style based around people being at their corporate office desk Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. We have a culture of presenteeism and micromanagement (“you’re not working unless I see you) and there is a lack of government policies to support flexible working hours and working one day a week in a co-worker space or work hub.

Matthew Trigg of Uber Technologies told me the challenge is the stigma and uncertainty associated with alternative modes of transportation.

So I’m asking: “Is our transport defined by our fears?”

I think it is.

Fear is a powerful influence on behaviour that rarely takes us where we want to go. Many media articles seem designed more to alarm than inform and consequently what we pay attention to determines how fearful we are.

  • Some employers believe employees will ‘slack off’ if they work at home
  • Many people think it’s risky to carpool to work with a colleague
  • Some parents tell me they think kids walking to a school bus is simply an open invitation to kidnapping and abduction
  • Sections of our society think emerging technologies like Uber are unsafe and dangerous.

If we really want to cut traffic congestion, increase public transport patronage and change the way we work, we need to alleviate the fear and change the way we think. We can all help eliminate transport fears right now.

  1. Focus on the facts: Many major workplaces or business parks that encourage employees to carpool one day a week or once a fortnight have opted for private databases so that their employees only share with co-workers. This has eliminated the risk of crime and the obstacle of sharing a car with a complete stranger. The average car is parked for 95 per cent of its lifetime; the truth is that our cars cost us money when they are moving and even more when they are lying idle. Everyone wants to save money and car-pooling provides an opportunity for City Leaders, councils, workplaces and individuals to save money through better utilisation of existing assets and infrastructure.
  2. Demonstrate the value: Few people are prepared to question our society’s entrenched habits, but transport planners and public servants have the opportunity to show businesses the value in staggering start and finish times for employees. We can all do our bit by not believing that if our colleagues are not seen, they are not working. If we are all willing to change our transport and working behaviours just once a week, or even once a month, we can all be part of cutting traffic congestion. Imagine how much less traffic there would be on our roads if we all worked at home just one day a month.
  3. Share positive stories: Our transport decisions are closely tied to our family responsibilities, job, working hours, where we live, age, gender, income, hobbies, environmental awareness, knowledge of alternative transport choices and physical abilities. Transport information and messages need to be positive and need to make an emotional connection with people. They should generate interest and curiosity, and lead people to go and find out more. Messages that have a story are a powerful tool for sharing experiences, showing people how to behave and teaching lessons rather than simply creating panic and fear.

Collectively, our attitudes, perceptions and behaviours shape the way we live. If we really want a new future for transport planning – for our towns and cities to be traffic congestion free, for our household budgets to be a little bit more secure and for practical common sense ideas to be a reality – then let’s not let our transport be defined by our fears. Like Richard Branson says, it would be a mistake not to encourage telecommuting, working at home and flexible working hours.