Travel Changes from COVID-19

Updated February 2021

11 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, driving mileage has recovered while other modes have maintained lowered utilization.

For driving, a graph from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows U.S. bounce back to about 90% of March 2020 Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT):

Santa Clara County driving bounce back is less, because 51% of jobs in the County can be worked from home, the highest percentage in the U.S. This yields much-lower commute VMT.

Biking is a very COVID-safe mode, thus biking has increased during the pandemic.

Bay Area public transit ridership is still off by about 90% from pre-COVID. Caltrain ridership is down 95% from normal, with November 2020 Average Weekday Ridership down from 69,607 in November 2019 to 3,742:

Caltrain shuttle ridership is down by 94%.

Uber and Lyft ridership is down 75% with both laying off 25% of their workforce.

As far as apps that match carpools between commuters, Waze Carpool trips to/from downtown Palo Alto dropped 99% from 2,500 in February 2020 to 30 in June.

As far as post-COVID, Mineta Transportation Institute’s Frances Edwards predicts that transit ridership in congested corridors will quickly spring back to 75% of pre-COVID and to 100% within a year. Stanford Professor Nicholas Bloom undertook survey research about permanent increases in working from home. For workers with ability to work from home, he predicts between 20% to 40% of working days from home, with employers inclined towards fewer and employees desiring more.

As far as COVID-safe commuting while in the high-case Purple Tier in February 2021, public transit is working hard to implement best practice safety measures while also developing confidence-boosting messaging to lure more riders back. The current thinking on safe carpooling is one driver, one rider, two opposing windows open half-way. As we progress from Purple to Orange to Yellow COVID tiers, we envision a gradual return to transit and carpooling, with gradual increase in capacity. Biking holds the potential to gain share at the expense of other modes.