With commuting down, cities must rethink their transportation networks

The past three years have been a remarkable period for household travel across America. Pandemic-era health restrictions, office closures, and surging e-commerce all contributed to striking changes in how, when, and where people traveled outside their homes. Decades-long patterns such as rush hour and holiday travel suddenly looked different…

Using metropolitan-level travel data from fall 2019 and fall 2022, this report goes beyond traditional aggregate metrics to track trip purposes and what times those trips occur. This data exposes two structural changes taking shape in real time. On one hand, people have generally substituted longer commutes for shorter but more frequent trips to eat, shop, and run errands—and that pattern holds in all 109 metro areas studied.2 Yet even with consistent drops in commuting, total miles traveled are trending in wildly different ways when comparing metro areas to one another. Just as importantly, there is no single variable—such as population change, economic growth, or even the presence of telework-heavy industries—that consistently explains the differences among metro areas.