Sep 7, 2022 - News

Washingtonians are still ditching the office

A man walks by an empty storefront in downtown D.C.
Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

COVID-19 spread might be low, but D.C.-area workers are staying home to embrace remote work and dodge long Metro commutes.

Why it matters: Metrics show that commuting and office occupancy have stagnated, meaning that there are fewer people around to keep downtown buzzing, a concern for the city’s future.

  • Experts expected D.C.-area commutes to pick back up, but Metrorail ridership since last March has been around 40% of pre-pandemic weekday numbers, the Washington Post reported.
  • Office occupancy in the D.C. area was 37.5% as of mid-August, according to data from Kastle and JLL Research. The region is ninth among major metro markets for office occupancy, behind places such as Austin, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
  • The busiest office day of the week? Tuesday, per the data, when occupancy rises to 45.6%.

Foot traffic has stubbornly stayed in the low-to-mid 60% range since March, according to cell phone activity from Placer.ai.

What they’re saying: Downtown DC Business Improvement District president Gerren Price told Axios that multiple elements are at play to draw workers back, including “the robustness of the Metro system, which appears to be improving bit by bit.”

  • Price also noted the importance of “the amenities available to workers, such as dining and shopping options, which in turn depend on sufficient foot traffic to keep their doors open.”

Integral to a return-to-the-office is the federal government, which is the biggest employer in the Downtown BID and has a piecemeal policy toward office work. The feds also have a "trickle-down effect on other industries in the region," JLL senior researcher Michael Hartnett told Axios.

  • He expects office occupancy to increase in the months ahead. The new norm may be a "hybrid work model," where foot traffic and commutes peak in the middle of the week as opposed to Monday or Friday.

What’s next: Metro’s 7000 series trains — which make up 60% of the rail fleet — are finally returning to service in greater numbers starting next Monday.

  • With more transit service on the horizon and a less tight labor market, employers could feel more confident calling workers back to the office.
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