Friday, February 02, 2024

Car Commutes are Getting Longer

During the height of the Covid epidemic a number of visualizations were created to show the drop in road traffic and public transit use. As people were forced to quarantine and work from home our roads and transit networks saw an observable fall in traffic.

For example Buzzfeed teamed up with Mapbox to create a series of interactive mapped visualizations showing the reduction in road traffic in a number of American and global cities. In These Traffic Maps Show How The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Emptied Streets Across The Globe Buzzfeed presented a series of before & after maps which revealed traffic levels before & after the outbreak of Covid-19. 

TomTom has now released data which reveals how road traffic has increased again since the 'mid-pandemic era'. Axios has mapped out the Change in average travel time by car, 2021 to 2023 using TomTom's data. The entirely unsurprising result is that now that lock-downs are over there is more traffic on the road and that commuting times are increasing compared to commuting times from 2021.

The Axios map shows that Washington D.C. has seen the largest increase in car commuting times (97 secs for a 6 mile journey). Other densely populated cities such as New York and Boston have also seen increases in average commuting times over one minute.

Axios concludes that these small increases in commuting time prove that 'the heyday of the work-from-home era is no doubt behind us'. I'm not sure I entirely agree with this conclusion. Road traffic has undoubtedly risen since a time when people were being forced into lock-downs. However Axios's analysis is missing the obvious control data of pre-pandemic commuting times. 

It would surely be more revealing to compare the rates of working from home now to pre-pandemic levels rather than comparing commuting times now to those during the enforced lock-down levels during Covid. Therefore I think the Axios map would be far more interesting if they also looked at 2023 commuting times compared to 2019 (pre-pandemic) commuting times.

The TomTom Traffic Index features an analysis of average travel times (per 10km), average speeds in rush hour and travel time changes since 2022 for 387 cities across 55 countries on 6 continents. Globally London has the longest average travel time (37 mins 20 sec to travel 10km) while Oklahoma City has the shortest average travel time (7 min 57 s to travel 10km).

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