Pandemic-related Shifts in Work, Travel, and Transit Use: Implications for Public Policy

Research Team: Brian Taylor and Giovanni Circella

UC Campus(es): UC Davis, UCLA

Problem Statement: While the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affected travel and transportation systems, driving has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels, even as a significantly larger share of the workforce works from home full- or part-time. However, there have been significant changes in the timing and patterns of car travel since before the pandemic. Moreover, public transit systems have been especially hard hit, and riders have proven slow to return. While transit use by those unable to drive (who are more likely poor, immigrants, people of color, and/or disabled) has substantially recovered since the shutdowns in the spring of 2020, daily commuting to and from major employment centers collapsed and is just beginning to recover. The shifts in motor vehicle travel and the more dramatic changes in public transit use are both likely related to workplace changes, as the number of remote and hybrid workers has increased. The longer-term effects of the pandemic on travel remain uncertain, as do the appropriate policy responses to changing traffic patterns broadly, and to depressed transit ridership specifically. Public transit is a key transportation pillar of California’s climate and equity goals, which will be harder to meet with driving up and transit riding down.

Project Description: This research will investigate how metropolitan travel patterns have shifted in the late stages of the pandemic and what these shifts imply for driving and public transit use in the years ahead. The project will build on current research underway in Northern and Southern California drawing on and integrating both survey and mobile device data that reflect traveler movements before and during the pandemic. Specifically, it will look at how these pandemic-induced shifts in travel relate to the rise of working from home, how this might affect the demand for public transit in the future, and what evidence-based policy recommendations can be offered to state, regional, and local transportation agencies to better respond to and address these new patterns of travel demand.

Status: Completed

Budget: $77,350

Policy Brief(s):