Apr 28, 2020 - Economy

Americans are starting to drive again, but still staying away from public transit

Data: Apple; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

One thing that will affect post-pandemic oil demand and carbon emissions is how quickly — and how much — driving ultimately bounces back compared to other modes of moving around.

Driving the news: Rough proxy data via Apple provides early signs that driving is starting to come back in a number of U.S. cities, while light rail and bus use basically isn't (yet).

  • The chart above shows a few cities I looked at using this interactive online tool from Apple that shows the results of changes in the number of requests for directions to Apple Maps.

Why it matters: Shelter-in-place restrictions worldwide have radically cut down on travel during the pandemic, but it's not yet clear if post-crisis travel patterns and decisions will ever be completely the same.

Where it stands: A much clearer picture will emerge in the months and years ahead. But already there are other signs that car travel is beginning to come back.

  • Data provided to Axios by the Google-owned navigation app Waze is another proxy for driving levels in the same cities charted above.
  • The reductions on April 22 were less severe in all the cities than peak declines from a February baseline. (Peak declines occurred from late March through mid-April, depending on the city.)

The intrigue: There's all kinds of variable and uncertainties. We're in the early stages. But the future could mean...

  • Some people avoiding mass transit, at least for a time, which adds to vehicle use and traffic.
  • Yet working from home and other behaviors that put downward pressure on car travel could remain post-crisis.
  • Some cityscapes in Europe and elsewhere are becoming more walking- and bike-friendly during the crisis, and I'm watching to see if those changes could stick around too.

Go deeper: The post-pandemic landscape may favor cars

Go deeper