Monday, January 4, 2021

Pandemic Changing Commuting Patterns

Workers across the U.S. can look forward to similarly improved post-pandemic commutes, thanks to the anticipated staying power of the work-from-home trend, reports The Wall Street Journal citing people who study transportation.

Even after offices reopen on a large scale, many employees will likely go in only a few days a week and a large share will have flexibility to travel at off-peak times, according to recent surveys. Fewer cars on the road during rush hour would mean less traffic congestion.

The impacts will depend on a range of factors, including how much leeway employers give and the choices employees make. In big metro areas with robust public transit systems, some planners and academics worry that a large-scale shift from trains and buses to cars—a phenomenon the pandemic has put into motion—could worsen traffic snarls.

More than 300 North American employers polled in October said they expect about 30% of their full-time employees will be working from home in three years, up from 5% three years ago, according to a survey by global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson.

Overall, an estimated 18% of U.S. workers will likely work from home every day in the post-pandemic era, more than double the 7% who did beforehand, said Abolfazl Mohammadian, director of the Transportation Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

That shift could lead to significant drops in commute times, he said. He foresees modest gains in his own commute, he added. The 37-mile drive to his office sometimes took two hours before the pandemic, he said, but post-pandemic, he figures it will top out at 90 minutes during rush hour.

Commute times nationwide had been edging higher before the pandemic. Nationwide, the average trip to work in 2019 took nearly 28 minutes, about two minutes longer than in 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

In some of the biggest metro areas, car commuting collapsed in March, rebounded in late spring and early summer, then plunged during the fall as the virus surged, according to data-analytics company StreetLight Data Inc. In metro Chicago, commuting miles traveled in November were about half the pre-pandemic norm, StreetLight found. Metro Boston’s total wasn’t much higher at 57%, while Houston and Los Angeles stood at 65% and 77%, respectively.

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