April 8, 2021

Will you drive more or less after the pandemic?

Here’s a plausible scenario in which you’ll drive more – from Slate:

When the pandemic hit, Sheila worked at home. Seeking to minimize interactions with strangers, she avoided crowds and had groceries and essentials delivered to her house. But when the pandemic ends, finally, she’ll resume visiting stores and meeting other people, and her employer will blow the dust off the cubicles and reopen the office. For now, Sheila will return to work in person only three days per week, working from the ‘burbs during the other two. How might her teleworking travel differ from when she commutes in person?

Sheila obviously won’t be driving to or from work if she stays at home, but she’ll still take many other trips. Since she can’t exercise at her office, she instead drives to a gym four miles from her house. A lunch meeting is five miles away, and she combines it with a pharmacy run—generating a trip of 12 miles. At the end of the workday, she makes a final trip to a grocery store three miles away. If you do the math, she has now driven a total of 26 miles—more than when she went to the office.

For an extra twist, imagine Sheila has a neighbor named Bob who in pre-pandemic times would commute to work by walking to a commuter rail station a half-mile away. He now becomes a post-pandemic teleworker, using his car to run errands or meet clients during the workday—trips that he used to do by walking or transit when he worked downtown. Teleworking has led Bob to increase his driving even more than Sheila. He might eventually convince his family to get an additional car—which suggests still more future driving, because people who obtain a car tend to use it. …

“After COVID we’ll have people relocating farther out,” says Patricia Mokhtarian, a professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “When they do commute, they’ll be traveling longer distances.” In a 2005 study, Mokhtarian and her colleagues concluded that teleworking can modestly reduce driving, but she says the effects dissipate as teleworkers move further from the central city. …

If there is a silver lining in teleworking inducing more driving, it’s that we can probably accommodate teleworkers’ travel with the existing road network, without requiring further expansion.

Um, not so fast, this is BC:

So PT readers, what about you: Do you anticipate driving more or less after the pandemic?

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  1. The article doesn’t mention that Sheila’s groceries were delivered by a truck that probably came from a central distributio bub that’s farther away than her local grocery store.

    It must be a tech thing, but meeting clients (ie over coffee) is pretty much non-existent. You’d e-mail them, phone them or call via Zoom nowadays. The only people I know who suggest meeting over coffee are tech people.

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