New work patterns create 24x7 rush hours on New York subways

Overall daily subway ridership is up, but peak-hour ridership is down: evidence that '9 to 5' is becoming '24/7/365.'

Those rush-hour-sized crowds you may be experiencing at 11:00 a.m. on New York's subway platforms -- or at 9:00 p.m. for that matter -- are not your imagination or simply a fluke. The platforms are staying crowded with commuters well beyond the traditional rush hours of 7-9 a.m. and 5-6 p.m.

Photo credit: Joe McKendrick

The flexible workplace of the 21st century is now more than some blogger or book author's imagination -- it's real, and making its impact felt on the trains of New York and many other employment centers.

As a new report out of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority describes it, ridership on the subway system rose by about 500,000 riders between 2008 and 2012 - now close to 2 million riders a day.

However, ridership during peak hours -- weekday morning and evening rush-hour commutes -- is actually down, dropping from 941,000 to 892,000.

MTA says this is prime evidence of an economy in transition: “'9 to 5' is becoming '24/7/365,'” the report's authors state. Plus, typical industrial-era 9-to-5 jobs are disappearing, with an always-on economy dominated by tech, education, health care, tourism and hospitality.

Along with new industries are non-traditional work patterns, with more people pursuing part-time, self-employment and telecommuting-work -- the emergence of a "new normal," the report points out.

Ted Mann, writing in The Wall Street Journal, quotes William Wheeler, director of special project development and planning at MTA, who is seeing a flattening of the two daily rush-hour spikes to an ongoing, 24-hour-a-day commute pattern: "How we work is changing dramatically, and therefore what times people are on our system and where they want to go is very different than it was 20 years ago."

If New York's subway ridership is a bellwether, the 9-to-5 job is definitely going the way of the phone booth or the VCR. Today's professionals are always on, and productivity is no longer bound by the confines of a clock.

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