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Will COVID Permanently Change How Americans Commute?

Stay-at-home workers aim to make the most of time saved from not commuting to their jobs
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The long-term effects the coronavirus will have on transportation likely won’t be known until a vaccine is implemented or society otherwise figures out how to safely get back to normal/new normal activities.

But some clear trends are emerging in the U.S. This includes embracing work-at-home protocols and switching from public transportation to the use of personal vehicles.

A new survey conducted by Cars.com in mid-August shows that more than one-third of workers still are doing their jobs from home as the country struggles to contain COVID-19 and new infection hotspots continue to pop up.

                                                                                                                      (Image: Cars.com)

Of those who have returned to offices, 30% are doing so on a part-time basis. And 35% of those who expect to eventually return to work sites outside their homes still plan to commute less frequently.

“Personal vehicles will dominate the work commute as distrust in public transport and ride-sharing continues," asserts Matt Schmitz, assistant managing editor for Cars.com. He notes that workers are saving as much as an hour or more per day by not commuting and are “finding significant value in this newfound gift of time.”

Taking a Pass on Mass Transit

Due to lingering uncertainty surrounding the transmission of COVID-19, individual risk factors and sanitization protocols, many commuters are using public transportation less or have stopped doing so entirely. This includes:

  • 65% of bus riders
  • 60% of subway or commuter rail riders
  • 59% of ride-sharing users

Of those who previously or currently use public transportation, 7% say they don’t expect to ever resume their pre-COVID ridership levels. Another 49% don’t envision such activity resuming before the end of 2020.

Part of the reason is the lack of trust in other commuters. Three-fourths of respondents are at least moderately confident that transportation companies will implement local and national health and safety protocols aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. But more than two in five respondents expressed doubts that other passengers would abide by such rules.

Time Management

Needless to say, working at home saves a lot of time previously spent in transit. This adds up to more than 30 minutes per day for more than two-thirds of the respondents, including 26% who said they saved more than an hour per day in commute times.

So how are people using their extra time? It’s a mix of relaxing, socializing, exercising and working. Here are some of the activities reported:

  • 43% are watching more TV and movies
  • 38% are spending more time exercising
  • 33% are spending their spare time with family and friends
  • 19% are working more

Personal Car Usage

For the auto industry, the good news is that 62% of respondents say they are using personal vehicles more as their public transportation wanes.

Some 21% of those polled report buying a new car since the coronavirus started to spread in the U.S. six months ago. More than half attribute such purchases to the pandemic.

The findings support a Cars.com survey from earlier this year in which two-thirds of respondents said the coronavirus has increased their reliance on or need for a personal vehicle. In the mid-March survey, some 20% indicated they were interested in buying a car as a result of the pandemic. The bulk of prospective buyers listed concerns about their health in using public transportation and/or the cleanliness of a ride-sharing vehicle.

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