Road congestion returns, but work from home leaves city centres empty

08 December 2021 - 08:49 By Reuters
Traffic congestion has returned to many global cities despite numerous many office buildings remaining empty.
Traffic congestion has returned to many global cities despite numerous many office buildings remaining empty.
Image: magicbones / 123rf

Empty roads and cleaner air at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic have given way to a gradual return of traffic congestion in many global cities, but US and UK downtown centres remain less busy as office workers continue to work from home, according to a study published on Tuesday.

Trips to US downtown areas were 22% below pre-pandemic levels, and down as much as 49% in San Francisco, where many tech workers continue to work remotely, a 2021 traffic study of more than 1,000 cities by transportation analytics firm INRIX Inc showed.

Downtown trips in the UK remain 19% below pre-pandemic levels, but are back to pre-Covid strength in Germany, likely a result of fewer Germans working from home, said Bob Pishue, INRIX transportation analyst and author of the study.

"In the US, we don't expect congestion to go back to the way it was before for a while, at least through 2022," he said.

Traffic, an indicator closely tied to economic activity and recovery, overall has returned at uneven levels around the world, the study showed.

While the average London driver lost 148 hours in traffic this year — the most of any city dweller and roughly the same as pre-pandemic — the average US city driver lost 36 hours in traffic, a nearly 43% decrease from pre-pandemic levels.

The stark differences are the result of governments' varying approaches to pandemic restrictions, cities' structures of downtown business center, and workers' ability to telecommute, Pishue said.

"There's not one answer for everything. It's very complex," he said .

Vaccination rates also do not appear to influence traffic levels, with remote work being a larger driver, Pishue said. For example, in Washington DC, usually one of the top congested US cities, nearly 80% of residents are vaccinated but hours lost to traffic remain down 65%.


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