How have consumers changed their commuting and transportation habits?

What are drivers’ own perspectives on and feelings about how their commuting and transportation habits have recently changed?

Life is returning to normal … or is it? By March 2021, total miles driven countrywide had gone back to pre-pandemic numbers, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

We’ve seen companies like Adobe, Amazon, Facebook, Capital One, and dozens of others announcing that some positions are eligible for remote work, either full-time or part time.

What other permanent changes can we expect?

We can extrapolate a lot of insight from driving data, but it’s just not the same as asking the drivers themselves what they think.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve not only monitored how people’s driving behaviors have radically shifted, according to mobility data, but also how people’s mindsets have shifted in the last year and a half.

Our latest consumer survey gathered the thoughts of a nationally representative sample of almost 2,000 U.S. adults. We asked questions about:

  • Transportation and commuting behaviors
  • Travel and shopping behaviors
  • Autonomous vehicles and driver-assist features

In this article, we’ll focus on what we discovered with our first research effort: trends concerning transportation and commuting behaviors.

Our goal was to understand modes of transportation and frequency as well as commuting behaviors within the previous three months compared to before the pandemic. The survey was conducted in March 2021. Keep in mind that this was before most of the public restrictions were lifted in much of the U.S.

Here’s what we learned.

How transportation habits in general have changed

  • About 76% of all respondents reported some sort of change in their use of different modes of transportation.
  • Avoiding COVID-19 (66%) and less of a need to travel places (52%) were the dominant reasons for those who shifted their use of different modes of transportation. Other reasons included saving money (34%), getting more recreation time or exercise (28%) and the fact that there were restrictions or less availability on their preferred mode of transportation (27%).
  • Not surprisingly, shared, or public modes of transportation were most likely to be avoided during the pandemic. Among those who ever travel by plane, more than 60% reported they are flying less often than before. Likewise, about 50% of those who ever use train / subway, bus, taxi, and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft reported using these options less often. Driving or riding in a car were less likely to be affected, with about a third of respondents doing so less often. Walking was the only mode people were more likely to report doing more often (29%) than less often (17%).

How commuting to work has changed

The pandemic’s impact on whether and how people commute to work has been profound.

  • Fewer than half of participants (39%) reported that they currently commute to work compared to 56% who reported commuting before the pandemic.
  • More than 50% of those who commuted before the pandemic said they stopped commuting or commute less often because of COVID-19.
  • Among those who said that they changed their commuting frequency or mode, a shift to working from home (48%) and avoiding COVID-19 (47%) were cited as the leading reasons. Over three in four of those who shifted to working from home primarily did so with their current employer rather than switching to a new non-commuting job.
  • While driving was by far the dominant mode of commuting both currently and before the pandemic, respondents reported a shift away from shared and public modes of commuting to driving and walking. The share who reported driving as their primary way to commute rose from 75% before the pandemic to 80% at the time of the survey.

What’s surprising in these findings is how widespread the impact of the pandemic on transportation habits has been. Three in four people have adjusted what kind of transportation they use. One in two commuters no longer commute or commute less often. And we can still feel this impact a year later, in March 2021.

As the U.S. opens but the world in general continues to fight COVID-19 and all the variants. Will these shifts in behavior dramatically change again? Or will these new habits stick around?

If there’s one thing that Arity is really good at, it’s transforming large amounts of raw driving data into meaningful insights that help companies collect data at scale, better predict risk and improve customer experiences.

We will continue to report our findings and take periodic snapshots, like with this survey, of how people are feeling about getting from point A to point B.

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Arity is a mobility data and analytics company. We provide data-driven solutions to companies invested in transportation, enabling them to deliver mobility services that are smarter, safer, and more economical.