US vehicle traffic has rebounded to about 90% of pre-pandemic levels as commuters steer clear of public transit, report says

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It’s been more than three months since travel began to decline in the US amid coronavirus-related shutdowns. And as cities and states across the US begin to reopen, vehicle traffic has rebounded to about 90% of pre-coronavirus levels, according to data released by INRIX, a transportation data firm.

Traffic has been steadily increasing since mid-April, when it bottomed out at 52 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

In the week ending June 11th, 22 states saw people driving even more than they did in late February, according to INRIX. That includes Alabama (up 101%) and South Carolina (up 108%), both of which have seen recent rises in coronavirus cases.

States that were hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, like New York and Washington, saw traffic levels rebound to 82% and 87% of pre-crisis levels, respectively.

Experts have warned that even with partial reopenings, cities could see higher-than-normal traffic as people opt for private vehicles over public transportation and carpooling. And recent surveys have shown that confidence in public-transit systems has dropped, Business Insider has reported.

Traffic could continue to rise as commuters shy away from public transit

At the height of the pandemic, ridership of New York’s MTA, for example, was down by over 90%. And a recent survey from research firm Elucd found that 44% of New Yorkers will avoid public transit after quarantine ends. The poll found that, nationwide, 46% of people will “avoid transit entirely.”

Earlier this month, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines advising employers to encourage commuters to avoid public transportation. The guidelines suggest that employers incentivise alternative commuting options, like biking, walking, and driving alone or with household members. The CDC also suggested employees’ work hours be shifted if needed to avoid rush hour on public transit.

To be sure, commuting via public transit and carpooling has long been the suggestion from health and environmental officials. Pre-coronavirus, more than 76% of commuters in the US drove to work alone. Encouraging the remaining 24% to start driving, too, could have negative impacts on ongoing efforts to combat climate change.

“Our roads cannot handle the increase in demand that will come from increased vehicle dependence. Congestion levels will likely become unbearable,” University of British Columbia urban planning and public health professor Lawrence Frank told CNBC.

In March, INRIX released its annual ranking of the most congested cities in the US. Boston had the worst traffic of any city in 2019, followed by Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York. Los Angeles, known for its heavy traffic, took sixth place.