The pandemic ended the daily commute

Crowded subway
  • Many Americans stopped commuting daily amid lockdowns and working from home in the last year.
  • The average amount of time spent traveling each day dropped from about an hour and 12 minutes in 2019 to 47 minutes in 2020.
  • Only about two-thirds of Americans traveled anywhere on an average day in 2020, down from 84% in 2019.
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The daily grind is over.

It’s one of the smaller, but potentially surprisingly pleasant, changes from the horrible last year of pandemic and lockdowns: Taking the subway or driving a car to work has come to an end for millions of Americans.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recently released results from the American Time Use Survey showed that the average amount of time Americans spent traveling on a given day dropped from about an hour and 12 minutes in 2019 to 47 minutes in 2020.

Even more dramatically, while 84% of Americans traveled somewhere outside their homes on a typical day in 2019, only 67% did in 2020. These stats include commuting, but also time spent traveling to stores, taking children to school, or any other trip to or from the home.

The Time Use Survey annually asks thousands of Americans to keep a diary, listing how they spend their time on a typical day. Because of the disruptions caused by the onset of the pandemic last spring, BLS released estimates comparing May through December 2019 to the same months in 2020.

One consequence of this is that all of the 2020 figures reflect the period after COVID-19 began to spread widely and lockdowns were implemented across the country.

The Time Use Survey also showed that the share of Americans working from home almost doubled from 22% in 2019 to 42% in 2020. That varied across industries, with sectors like finance and professional services seeing much higher telecommuting rates than transportation or leisure and hospitality:


Other data also show a big drop-off in commuting during the pandemic. A study of traffic congestion by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that the number of hours commuters spent stuck in traffic each year was cut nearly in half, from 54 hours per commuter in 2019 to 27 hours in 2020.

A Zillow analysis reported by The Wall Street Journal found that homebuyers are paying much less of a premium for living close to work, as remote working situations make commute time less of a factor in choosing where to live.

The Journal’s Nicole Freedman wrote, “in the two-year period ended in May 2021, home values in neighborhoods with a 70-minute commute rose 30.2%, strongly outpacing a 9.2% price gain for 20-minute-commute areas and a price decline of 2.5% for neighborhoods within 10 minutes of a job center” in the Boston metro area.

We’ll see what happens as the economy continues to reopen, but for now at least, lots of Americans are saving time on one of the most frustrating parts of the workday.