Car travel dropped almost everywhere in America during the COVID-19 pandemic. People stopped going to work. Schools were closed. Retail outlets were shuttered along with movie theaters and many vacation destinations. Slowly, that has started to change. Disney, for example, has started to open theme parks. Huge retailers like Walmart have opened back up to full capacity. “Working from home” may become the exception and not the rule as companies begin to tell people to return to their offices. In one or two cities, traffic patterns have returned to normal in sharp contrast to a year ago.
According to Route Fifty, “Nationwide, the average daily number of VMTs in March 2021 was 20% higher than in March 2020, when many states began to enact travel restrictions.” “VMT” means vehicle miles traveled.
Another sign people are driving more is that car sales have reached near all-time record levels. While this had driven new and used car prices through the roof and contributed to national inflation, people are still flooding dealerships.
While the change from city to city and state to state based on VMT data is widely different, two Florida cities have seen large increases in traffic. Route Fifty reports:
The two Florida cities “were already returning to a more traditional daily traffic pattern by February this year,” the report states. “This is a warning sign that other cities may soon follow suit, as remote work gradually gives way to office commutes.”
It is not clear why these two cities have outpaced the balance of the U.S. metro areas. However, based on analysis by StreetLight Data, other cities are moving in the same direction.
It seems the rush hour has started to return. The percent of people eventually called back to offices will affect these numbers. Based on anecdotal reports, many large companies want all or part of their workforces back by the end of the year. People will get a chance to drive all those new cars.
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