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Survey: Impact of COVID-19 on commuting choices

The City of Boston, in collaboration with A Better City, conducted a survey of office, university, and hospital employees. We wanted to better understand how COVID-19 has affected commuting choices.

More than 4,200 office, university, and hospital employees who work in Boston were surveyed on their commuting habits during the pandemic. The 20-30 question survey, depending on skip logic, received responses from early August through September 2020. The survey was available in five languages. These include Spanish, Haitian Creole, traditional Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cape Verdean Creole.

This survey effort was made possible thanks to generous support from the Energy Foundation, via the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge. In 2018, Boston became one of 25 cities to take part in the Climate Challenge. The initiative aims to:

  • increase U.S. cities’ efforts to create the greatest climate impact through 2020, and
  • showcase the benefits that climate solutions bring.
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Transportation
Location
1 City Hall Square
Room 721
Boston, MA 02201-2026

What we learned from the survey

Across most modes, the majority of people we surveyed plan to return to their pre-pandemic commuting habits. Among those who plan to change, more plan to switch to driving alone than any other mode. 

In the survey, 1,086 respondents planned to switch to a new mode of transportation when workplaces reopen. Of them, 12 percent chose cycling as the new mode they plan to try. That was the highest proportion among all sustainable options.

Overall commute modes

Fourteen percent of those we surveyed plan to shift away from transit and toward driving. But, nearly 62 percent would like to commute sustainably when workplaces fully reopen.

  • Forty-five percent of those who drive alone said free or reduced MBTA passes would get them to switch.
  • A little less than half of former transit riders said these measures would help them to either definitely or probably ride again:
    • routine cleaning
    • real-time crowding information, and
    • hands-free sanitizer dispensers.
  • Ninety-two percent of survey respondents did not have plans to buy a new vehicle.
  • More than half of the respondents are not comfortable taking a rideshare trip. Rideshare examples include Lyft or Uber.
  • More than 80 percent of respondents want to telework more than they did before COVID-19. But, only about 20 percent want to telework full time after workplaces fully reopen.

What this means for City policy

An increase in drive-alone rates will only make pre-pandemic congestion levels worse. This will lead to an increase in air pollution and emissions. Here are steps the City is taking for a healthier and more equitable Boston.

  • Through the Healthy Streets program, we have installed more than seven miles of protected bike lanes. We are committed to making biking in Boston safe and convenient.
  • The City of Boston opposes cuts to MBTA service. We are encouraging the T to inform riders that they are taking measures to ensure safety, including:
    • compliance with wearing masks, and
    • frequent sanitization of subway cars and buses.
  • Finally, we will work with large employers to commit to financial incentive programs for transit and bike share. We want to encourage employees not to drive when they return to work.

Commuter Survey report

Read the report about the survey results of the impact of COVID-19 on commuting choices.

Survey Report
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