COVID May Take 14 Million Cars Off the Road Forever - Streetsblog
But if we don't act fast, they'll come back.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed American driving habits so much that traffic volumes may never recover, a new study finds — but the predicted the post-vaccine 9.2-percent drop in national vehicle miles travelled could be much bigger, if we act now.
Following a comprehensive study of trends in remote work adoption, shifts to online shopping, and other national travel data collected over the course of the pandemic, researchers at KPMG concluded that traffic volumes probably aren’t going to climb much higher than the benchmark they’ve reached to date: just 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Over time, researchers say that drop would translate to as much as 270 billion fewer miles driven on our roadways each year, as well as a massive drop in vehicle ownership that could take as many as 14 million distinct cars out of the national fleet entirely.
On the one hand, losing a tenth of our country’s traffic miles is nothing to sneeze at.
The KPMG researchers say that long-term shifts to remote work alone would reduce VMT by as much as 140 billion miles per year, albeit mostly along the corridors that were formerly travelled by wealthier, predominantly white white collar workers.
All those shopping trips Americans have been skipping during quarantine could very well result in permanent changes to consumer spending habits, too — and researchers think it could keep a lot of cars off the road, while adding a few more commercial trucks.
“In a survey of 1,100 adult consumers, 60 percent of respondents said that since COVID-19, they are doing more shopping online than in-store, vs. 44 percent before COVID-19,” the report noted. “Two-thirds of respondents expect to continue purchasing items they now buy online after the coronavirus is under control.”
But even these strong trends don’t mean a VMT fall-off is a sure thing — and even a 10-percent drop would definitely not be enough to adequately curb transportation-related climate change emissions, end our traffic violence crisis, or remove the financial burden of car ownership from the backs of low-income Americans.
The researchers themselves warned that their own predictions could easily be undercut by several factors, including a large-scale shift away from public transportation into single-occupancy cars or even carpools. A disturbing 24 percent of transit riders are already considering making that leap.