by Sean Batty, ASLA
The COVID-19 pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on U.S. transportation. Remote work and unemployment dramatically reduced commuting trips for all transportation modes. Significant declines in transit ridership across the country has been the subject of many headlines. As vaccination rates increase and businesses (hopefully) re-open, what does the future hold for public transit?
U.S. transportation systems, including transit, are designed around the home-to-work commute. This is true despite that fact that most trips do not originate from a home and end at work. Travel to work trips are more likely to occur during “peak demand” or rush hour. The rise in telecommuting has made these early morning/late afternoon trips susceptible to long term (and possibly permanent) decline.
Mass vaccinations and declines in infection rates have eased travel restrictions and social distancing mandates in many states. As a result, travel demand has rebounded to near post-COVID levels relatively quickly. Experts are predicting that this trend will continue after the pandemic is truly over, unless the shift toward telecommuting persists.
In 2018, the percentage of workers telecommuting was around 6% nationally, or triple the rate of telecommuting in the 1980s. Technological advances since the 1980s have made telecommuting possible even if not all were on-board with the practice. Companies reluctant to allow telecommuting pre-COVID suddenly were forced to allow staff to work from home. The extended duration of the pandemic habituated remote work for many. This, combined with advancements in teleworking technologies, potential benefits to the corporate bottom line, and increased employee satisfaction and retention, has caused some experts to predict a more significant and lasting adoption of telework. The result may be a ‘flattening of the peak’ volume during historically traditional rush hours. [See “A Little More Remote Work Could Change Rush Hour A Lot,” by Emily Badger for The New York Times.]