Understanding COVID-19’s Effect on Transportation
Updated: Aug 18
Research helps estimate the impact of the pandemic on daily household and personal travel.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on almost every aspect of our lives over the past 17 months, and its impact on our Nation’s transportation system is no exception. While it is still too early to tell whether travel patterns will rebound to pre-pandemic levels as States re-open, one thing is clear: many researchers rely on the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) data to estimate the impact of the pandemic on daily household and personal travel.
MacroSys has a deep-rooted history with the NHTS, having supported more than a dozen NHTS-related projects since the early 1990s. Our team of internationally recognized researchers and analysts provide unparalleled insight into the complexities of the survey and the needs of its users and partners while working to address critical policy questions. Most recently, in March 2021, MacroSys supported FHWA in publishing the most current NHTS Compendium of Uses, which includes examples of how NHTS has supported COVID-19–related analyses.
A frequent statistic cited from the NHTS is vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Per to the 2017 NHTS, approximately 86 percent of Americans drove to work. An April 2020 blog, citing NHTS data, indicated a 68–72 percent reduction in VMT during the early days of the pandemic. Workplace-related changes, like lay-offs, mandated work closures, and shifts to working from home, were a major contributing factor.
Telecommuting has been hailed by many transportation modelers and environmentalists as a thin silver lining of COVID-19. A May 2020 article, also citing NHTS data, contended that if 25 percent of Americans telework just 1 day a week, VMT would drop by 1 percent—given that drivers traveled more than 3.2 trillion miles in 2018 across all trip purposes, that number is quite significant.
The drop in VMT associated with the pandemic has also contributed to a reduction in vehicle emissions, a subject of several NHTS-supported reports and press articles. Researchers believe that regardless of how long the pandemic lasts, this will be a watershed moment in the environmental movement.