May 12, 2020 - Economy

National mobility rising, signaling driving's revival

Data: Descartes Labs; Chart: Axios Visuals

The latest sign that driving is coming back? Analysis from the data science company Descartes Labs shows substantial increases in mobility in recent weeks after driving reached its pandemic-related trough about a month ago.

Why it matters: The revival of travel in the U.S. and worldwide will affect how quickly oil demand recovers from its unprecedented collapse (if it ever indeed comes all the way back).

How it works: Descartes Labs has created a "mobility index" based on geolocation data derived from phones and other devices reporting throughout the day, calculating the maximum distance moved from the first reported location.

What they found: Co-founder Mike Warren tells me that they're seeing increases nationwide.

  • "In mid-March, the drop in mobility seems to have started before a lot of the states had implemented the stay-at-home orders and closures, so I'm not surprised that people would be deciding for themselves what is safe to do," he said.

What we don't know: "We can't tell from the data if people went for a drive by themselves to get out of the house, or if they went to join some gathering of people, which would have very different consequences for the spread of COVID-19," Warren says.

The big picture: Descartes Labs says their far more granular localized and state-level analysis can help combat the pandemic.

  • "We're getting a lot of positive feedback from local health agencies who are using these data combined with their own local knowledge to understand the dynamics of the disease better," Warren adds.

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

Go deeper