COVID-19, Commuting, and E-Shopping: Understanding Current and Future Impacts in California

Research Lead: Jean-Daniel Saphores

UC Campus(es): UC Irvine

Problem Statement: COVID-19 prompted large shifts in travel behavior. Widespread business closures and stay-at-home restrictions caused commuting to drop (with a documented reduction in vehicle miles travelled) while telecommuting and e-commerce have soared. As the economy progressively re-opens, it is important to understand the extent and permanence of changes to commuting and shopping travel patterns. For example, social distancing restrictions will likely impact public transit ridership, potentially jeopardizing the state’s ambitious efforts to reduce car use; and changes in shopping patterns will have widespread implications for freight and supply chains, freight movement, the environment, in-store shopping, and land use planning.

Project Description: This research will conduct interviews with transportation demand management (TDM) program managers and a range of employers across California to better understand telecommuting perceptions before, during, and after COVID-19 and the willingness among employers to sustain telecommuting programs during and after the pandemic. Following the surveys, two focus groups will be organized, one in the San Joaquin Valley and a second in the Inland Empire, to better understand the factors that contribute to commuting behavior (e.g., housing affordability, school quality, and more generally quality of life), with additional questions on super commuting (i.e., commutes more than 90 minutes a day to work) and online shopping. The interviews and focus groups will inform two larger online surveys of Californians in general and super commuters in particular. The data collected will be used to explore how COVID-19 has (i) changed commuting (including the use of public transit); (ii) impacted behaviors and perceptions of telecommuting for both employees and employers; (iii) changed super commuter travel; and (iv) impacted how much people shop online versus in stores, especially for groceries.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $119,107 (plus $33,000 supplemental funding from Caltrans)

Project Partner(s): Caltrans, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Contra Costa County Transit Authority, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission/Altamont Corridor Express, Orange County Transportation Authority