Will changing my travel timing help me save fuel?

Opting out of the peak-hour grind is a great way to save fuel. Unfortunately many workers just can't swing it

Potential Fuel Saving: 50 per cent

[Extremely worthwhile; potentially difficult to achieve]

If you can avoid peak-hour traffic, sideline those ignition keys. The dreaded ‘linear car park’ between home and office is a huge threat to air quality – and 53 per cent of all passenger vehicle travel in Australia occurs in capital cities, plus another 18 per cent in other urban areas. In fact, Australians drove 46 billion kilometres just getting to and from work in 2006. (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Motor Vehicle Use 2006.)

Crawling along in the traffic equivalent of molasses, in a 1500kg car, and carrying basically 80kg of cargo (you) is a very inefficient way to drive anywhere. And if you're one of the increasingly unlucky souls locked in gridlock for one hour each way during the working week, you're spending the equivalent of a waking month wasting your life in traffic. At least on the bus or a train you can do something productive with the time...

From the outer suburbs to the CBD – in this series of tests a 22km drive – took 24 minutes, provided departure was at an ungodly 5am. Consumption? A little under two litres of unleaded per run.

However, if you depart with the Joneses at 7.30am, hit the peak head-on, and the same drive took one hour– more than a 100 per cent time penalty, and fuel consumption skyrockets to more than three litres, a 50 per cent increase.

Obviously, 5am starts would not suit many, but even a small reduction in peak-hour exposure is beneficial. In one bet-hedging test run we departed at 8.30am, had a great run for 11km to the halfway point before grinding into the tail-end of the peak. Here, we still managed to shave more than 20 per cent over the absolute peak-hour run’s consumption. Still a worthwhile saving of both time and fuel.

If the bus or the train is an option, you might want to consider that instead of jamming your car into the peak. Another alternative is to negotiate an early or late start time with management, provided they'll cop a correspondingly earlier or later knock-off.

A final solution is tele-commuting - a euphemism for working from home. This would work only in situations where being on site at the workplace is unnecessary, and you'd have to agree to defined performance targets when you're not physically there. If you can swing that just one day a week, you'll cut your get-to-work fuel bill by 20 per cent.

If just five per cent of working Australians could organise their days so that they were 'telecommuting' on any given day, traffic volumes in the peak would fall by five per cent - about the same reduction conventionally experienced during school holidays. And we all know how much better the traffic flows during school holidays.