Bumper Mobility Study: Weekly Driving Returns to Pre-Pandemic Levels While Public Transport Drops 60%

Bumper Mobility Study: Weekly Driving Returns to Pre-Pandemic Levels While Public Transport Drops 60%
Graphic: Nathaniel Blum

As the United States entered lockdown, Americans turned to their cars. Weekly average driving remains flat compared to pre-pandemic life, but walking and public transit use declined, according to a Bumper analysis of 2020 Apple Maps data.

As Americans lean more on their cars, the data paints a dire picture for U.S. public transportation systems, which saw average ridership down 60% across the country. Last month, the Department of Transportation injected $14 billion in rescue aid to help keep afloat the nation’s public transportation systems.

Meanwhile, Americans on average walked 8% less each week compared to the pre-lockdown period of Jan. 1-March 15, 2020, according to Apple data.

Bumper examined 2020 Apple data for nationwide trends and to learn which states and cities saw the greatest increases and decreases in driving, public transportation and walking after the pandemic hit.

Key takeaways

  • Nationwide, weekly averages of driving time—while dipping and increasing at times during the pandemic—returned to pre-pandemic levels. Walking, however, decreased 8% while ridership on public transportation dropped 60% from March 15—shortly before state lockdowns began—through Dec. 31.
  • By April 19, at the height of the first wave of lockdowns, driving dropped on average 48% a week, walking declined by 56% and ridership on public transportation dropped 76% across the nation.
  • By November, even as many states issued orders to limit holiday travel as Covid-19 cases surged, walking and driving activity returned to pre-pandemic levels while public transit ridership was still less than half pre-pandemic levels.

Percentage increases and decreases in driving, public transportation and walking activity were indexed against the weekly average from Jan. 1 through March 15, 2020, shortly before states began issuing lockdown orders.

Driving increases in some areas post-pandemic, but not everywhere

A return to pre-COVID-19 driving activity could suggest good news in 2021 for the automotive industry, which wants to tap into pent-up demand after new car sales decreased 15.3% in 2020 and used car sales—while recovering in the second half of year—dropped 8.6% in 2020, according to car analyst Cox Automotive.

Key takeaways

  • States that saw driving activity increase the most were Wyoming (78%), Montana (66%), South Dakota (64%), Idaho (42%) and Maine (33%). Five of the top 10 states that saw driving activity increase—Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa—were among the seven states that never issued stay-at-home orders.
  • Cities that saw average weekly driving time increase the most post-lockdown: Virginia Beach, Virginia. (26%), Davenport, Iowa (25%) Norfolk, Virginia, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Anchorage, Alaska (22% each).
  • States that saw the largest weekly decrease in driving post-lockdown: Hawaii (-47%), California and Florida (-15% each), Arizona (-13%), and New York and Texas (-3% each).
  • Cities where average weekly driving activity decreased the most: Honolulu (-38%), Naples, Fla. (-29%), San Francisco-Bay Area (-27%), New Orleans (-26%) and Waipahu, Hawaii (-25%).

“The states and cities where we saw average driving activity decrease include many tourist destinations, such as areas in Hawaii, Florida and California,” said Evan Schlossman, a data analyst for Bumper.

Public transportation use craters—except in one state

Key takeaways

  • Only one state saw a weekly average increase in public transportation: Idaho (4%). States that saw the least decline in public transportation use: Arkansas and Mississippi (-6% each), Alabama (-8%), South Carolina (-9%) and Oklahoma (-10%).
  • Cities that charted the smallest weekly decrease in public transportation use: Tulsa, Oklahoma (-15%), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (-18%), Dayton, Ohio (-20%), Birmingham, Alabama (-22%), and Virginia Beach, Virginia (-23%).
  • States with the biggest average weekly decline in public transport use: Hawaii (-75%), California (-62%), Washington and Oregon (-61% each) and New York (-60%).
  • Cities with the biggest average weekly decline: Santa Barbara, California (-78%) Honolulu (-77%) Lansing, Michigan (-73%) Ann Arbor, Michigan (-72%) and Madison, Wisconsin (-72%).

“Besides loss of tourism, states that had the biggest decline include some of the largest cities in the nation, which are more dependent on public transportation,” Schlossman said. “Cities that saw the biggest decline include several large college towns, which were undoubtedly hit by distance-learning during the pandemic.”

Where people are walking more—or less—after pandemic

Key Takeaways

  • States that saw the highest average weekly walking time increases: Wyoming (78%), Montana (66%), South Dakota (64%), Idaho (42%) and Maine (33%).
  • Cities that saw average walking time increase the most post-lockdown were Virginia Beach, Virginia (66%), Fort Wayne, Indiana (50%), Dayton, Ohio (47%), Norfolk, Virginia (46%) and Victorville-Hesperia, California (45%).
  • States where weekly averages of walking dropped the most post-pandemic: Hawaii (-58%) New York (-43%), Louisiana (-38%), Nevada (-18%) and Massachusetts (-16%).
  • Cities that clocked the biggest average weekly decrease in walking: New Orleans (-66%), Honolulu (-60%), New York (-43%) San Francisco-Bay Area (-40%) and Washington, D.C. (-30%).

“One limitation of the study is we only have 2020 data from Apple, and the Jan. 1-March 15 pre-lockdown period is during winter months,” Schlossman said. “Many of the states and cities that saw an increase in walking post-lockdown were in colder climates, which may account for some of the post-pandemic increase.”

Methodology

Bumper analyzed mobility data released by Apple Maps with aggregated navigation data for the United States and 111 major cities from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020. Percentage increases and decreases in driving, public transportation and walking activity were indexed against the weekly average from Jan. 1 through March 15, 2020, shortly before states began issuing lockdown orders.

For more information, contact Richard Gargan, [email protected] or Kerry Sherin, [email protected].


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