Will traffic go up or down after COVID?

By Mr. John Fleck P.E posted 14 days ago



Here’s a challenge to the ITE community—What is your prediction of what will happen to traffic post COVID? (say, after a vaccine provides reasonable security from infection).  I think there are four key numbers, two of which are guesses, and two of which are based on existing data.  I’m looking at the SF Bay Area where I live, but the same arithmetic can be applied to any metropolitan area. 

Here are the numbers. 


  1. 5% of workers telecommuted prior to COVID
  2. 12% of commuters in the Bay Area used transit pre-COVID 


  1. Percentage of workers who will continue to telecommute after COVID-19? This article from Global Workplace Analytics estimates as much as 30% of workers will continue to telecommute after COVID.
  2. Percentage of people who will be reluctant to crowd onto public transit, even after the risk of COVID-19 has been eliminated? Transit ridership is down by about 90% during the stay-at-home orders now in place.  As these orders are gradually relaxed, it is doubtful that ridership will rise above 50% of its pre-COVID numbers according to a BART spokesperson.  Once the risk abates, I would assume the numbers would rise, but perhaps stay 25% lower than pre-COVID.

Based on these numbers, telecommuting will reduce traffic by 30%-5% = 25%. 

Reductions in transit riders would increase traffic by 25% x 12% = 3%.

So the reduction in traffic post-COVID-19 would be 25-3% =  22% reduction--my prediction.


A reduction in traffic by 22% would eliminate traffic congestion.  This would induce more people to drive, assuming that they had jobs.  However, it is quite likely that some sectors of the economy will have a very hard time recovering—e.g. tourism, entertainment, conventions, restaurants, professional sports—so this economic depression could offset the induced demand.

I’m estimating that these two factors offset, so the reduction would not be changed.

Also note that the numbers are different if you look at San Francisco, which had 34% of commuters using transit pre-COVID.  Therefore, a 25% reduction in transit ridership would increase traffic by about 9%.  This would mean a 25% - 9% = 16% reduction in traffic for San Francisco.  Also note that the off-peak traffic would be increased by 9%, which could be a serious problem in San Francisco where off-peak traffic is already very heavy.


I would like to hear what others in the ITE community think is likely to happen.  What is your prediction?