Changes could mean 1.1 million fewer average daily commute trips, but not necessarily less traffic
San Francisco—The Bay Area commute may never be the same again, but what that means for the region’s highways and mass transit systems still remains to be seen. Eight months of data from a survey the Bay Area Council conducted of approximately 200 employers has consistently found that most don’t expect workers to return to offices or other workplaces more than three days a week after the pandemic passes and restrictions lift.
The eight months of survey data, from a monthly survey the Bay Area Council has been conducting in partnership with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and EMC Research since April 2021, found that approximately 40% of employers expect employees to return to their places of work three days a week after the pandemic passes. In addition to eight months of data consistently finding the three day a week new norm, employers are also growing more confident that this frequency will be the new norm, with 92% of employers in November indicating they are somewhat confident, confident or very confident in this frequency.
Extrapolating from the region’s overall pre-pandemic workforce, the survey findings suggest possibly an average of 1.1 million fewer commute trips to primary places of employment per day after COVID recedes into our rearview mirror. But the potential drop in commute trips doesn’t mean that traffic is going to be any less of a nightmare than before the pandemic.
An analysis of data from the Bay Area’s seven state-owned toll bridges shows overall commute volumes as of November 2021 have returned to 86% of levels from November 2019. Some bridges, such as the Antioch and Carquinez toll plazas, are at nearly 100%. On the Bay Bridge, current rush hour volumes are higher than they were pre-pandemic.
Transit isn’t faring as well, with ridership on BART lingering at just 26% of pre-pandemic levels. Worse is that the increase in automobile commuters comes even as many employees are still working from home, with under one-third of employers in the November survey indicating they are operating under their new normal currently. These findings highlight the importance of getting commuters back on transit.
“As employees begin returning to in-person workdays, it’s vital that people resume their pre-covid commute patterns of utilizing public transit,” said Kelly Obranowicz, Policy and Regulatory Counsel for the Bay Area Council who focuses heavily on transportation issues. “We are at a pivotal moment for Bay Area transportation – if more and more people continue to drive by car to get around as we are seeing them do now, once we reach the new post-pandemic norm for in office work, Bay Area traffic will hit levels we’ve never seen before.”
To ease commute congestion, it will also be particularly important for commuters and transit agencies alike to be aware of the days of the week when employers anticipate peak levels of employees coming to the workplace. The survey has asked this question the last two months and employers indicate they anticipate seeing employees in the office most frequently on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Still, even on these peak days employers only anticipate seeing approximately 2/3rds of their workforce in the office – another change awaiting our communities as we begin moving towards the new working norm.
About the Bay Area Council
The Bay Area Council is a business-sponsored, public-policy advocacy organization for the nine-county Bay Area. The Council proactively advocates for a strong economy, a vital business environment, and a better quality of life for everyone who lives here. Founded in 1945, the Bay Area Council is widely respected by elected officials, policy makers and other civic leaders as the voice of Bay Area business. Today, more than 300 of the largest employers in the region support the Bay Area Council and offer their CEO or top executive as a member. Our members employ more than 4.43 million workers and have revenues of $1.94 trillion, worldwide.