Many Americans have been craving some normalcy after enduring the COVID pandemic and its spikes for 18 months now, but one area that hasn’t returned to normal the daily commute and the amount of time wasted because of it.
According to Inrix Inc., which provides transportation analytics and connected car services, U.S. commuters lost 3.4 billion hours due to traffic congestion in 2021. While that may sound like a lot, it represents a 42% decline compared with the pre-COVID numbers from 2019.
“COVID-19’s impact on transportation has continued through 2021, transforming when, where and how people move. Although congestion climbed 28% this year, Americans still saved 63 hours compared to normal,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at Inrix.
“The most notable change to commuting during the pandemic — other than reduced travel times and volumes — was the lack of downtown travel.”
The average American, according to its 2021 Global Traffic Scorecard, lost 36 hours to traffic jams in 2021, which is a 10-hour increase compared with 2020, when many parts of the country were in the throes of severe pandemic-related restrictions. However, is still 63 hours better than 2019’s results.
The simple answer is the workplace. Companies across the country revised their work rules allowing more people to continue working from home. A slew of studies showed home-based employees are more productive and happier — generally speaking — working remotely.
Although the push for working remotely was strongest in 2020, many companies continued the policy through this year as the Delta variant arrived.
In the auto industry, General Motors, Ford, Toyota and others are offering hybrid programs allowing workers to continue remote work most days.
Throughout the pandemic, San Francisco (-49%), Detroit (-41%), and Washington, D.C. (-38%) have continued to see significant reductions downtown trips, yet San Antonio (-5%), Tampa (-6%) and Phoenix (-7%) inched closer to pre-COVID levels. Nationwide, trips to downtowns decreased -22% versus pre-COVID levels.
Drivers in Chicago (104 hours), New York (102 hours) and Philadelphia (90 hours) lost the most time to traffic congestion in 2021 despite being -27% to -37% below 2019 levels, Inrix reported. Fourth-ranked Boston (78 hours), ranked first in 2019 Traffic Scorecard with 101 hours lost, lagged pre-COVID levels by -47%. Washington, D.C.’s congestion levels remained -65% below normal, the largest decline of large U.S. cities and the surrounding suburbs.
The report also noted where congestion is the worst across the U.S. The top 10 worst roads for traffic were in just five states and with California and Florida laying claim to three each. Unsurprisingly, California had the top spot and two of the top five.
The worst road was Interstate 5 South in Los Angeles between Euclid Avenue and I-605 where, according to the report, the worst delays were 22 minutes and drivers lost 89 hours last year. Naturally, the best time to get stuck? 4 p.m.
Like most years, New York’s Brooklyn Queens Expressway took second, yet it remains to be seen how the corridor will perform long-term with a lane removed for improved safety and a new bicycle lane.
Globally, the U.S. had only two cities in the top 10: New York City and Chicago, which finished No. 5 and No. 6, respectively. London was the worst city in the world, which was back to pre-COVID congestion levels. It was massive jump up the list as it was No. 16 last. For reference, NYC was third in 2020 while Chicago was seventh. Bogota, Colombia was the biggest loser last year.