Traffic Has Not Returned to Prepandemic Levels

Road congestion is increasing, but with many people working from home, commutes are still light.

December 09, 2021

City Commuting

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Traffic is still down in the U.S., due to many employees still working from home, reports the Wall Street Journal. Although traffic is increasing, U.S. commuters will spend 36 hours in traffic congestion this year, which is 10 hours more than last year but 63 hours less than in 2019, according to transportation analytics firm Inrix in its 2021 Global Traffic Scorecard.

“It’s very localized,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst with Inrix. “Some of these areas with fewer restrictions, and destination-based places like Vegas and Miami, are seeing a little bit more congestion relative to where they were.”

Congestion is only 19% less than it was pre-pandemic in Miami, but it’s 65% less in Washington, D.C. However, in many cities, certain roads are back to prepandemic traffic levels during rush hour, but the duration of traffic is shorter. Likewise, the morning commute is now faster than before the pandemic, reflecting a shift in driving patterns with many people still working from home and taking nonwork trips in the afternoon.

In Washington, D.C., commuters are poised to lose 44 hours to traffic congestion compared with 124 in 2019, according to Inrix, largely due to the high level of government and contractor jobs that are set up for telework. Two-thirds of telecommuters in the region said they would prefer to work remotely part time after the pandemic, while a quarter said they would like to do so full time, according to a 2020 survey by Washington’s regional transportation planning board.

During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, c-store visits declined by just over 19% versus 2019, and visits during the profitable weekday morning rush fell 26%, PDI data indicate. However, according to the NACS Magazine article, “Reawakening the Morning Daypart,” business is on the upswing.

“Morning rush trips are up 6% versus 2020, which is not surprising given the drop in March to May 2020,” said Dafna Gabel, vice president, insights, at PDI Software. “Morning rush is recovering faster than other key weekday dayparts—lunch, afternoon and evening. However, morning rush trips aren’t yet back to pre-pandemic levels. That daypart lost the most and still has the most to gain.”

But one good thing about today’s c-store shoppers is that they’re spending more per trip, and Gabel doesn’t see that waning.

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