Commuting Changes During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic upended many aspects of our daily lives. According to an October 2021 survey by DSA affiliate Commute Seattle and EMC Research, more than two in five downtown-based employees have switched to remote work since 2019. Interestingly, despite the pandemic, the share of single-occupancy vehicle commutes barely changed, staying around 25% of all commutes. Public transit experienced the largest decline in usage, dropping 26 points from being 45% of all commute modes in 2019 to 19% in 2021.
Survey findings also indicate that the majority of workers still plan to use public transit once the pandemic is no longer a serious threat. A different DSA survey conducted in December 2021 found a similar sentiment. However, the need for improved transit safety and reliability is a major concern for employers and workers in determining when people return to their workplaces.
The ability to shift to remote work was a powerful tool for some sectors during the pandemic, allowing for continued economic activity while supporting public health goals. However, there has been a cost to small businesses, the service industry and the downtown community as a whole. As pandemic outcomes improve, commuters’ use of public transit will be key to downtown’s long-term economic vitality, equity and sustainability.