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Surveys: 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. In the second and third phase of this project, we also conducted focus groups with eleven large employers and a follow up survey of office, university, and hospital employees.

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. The follow up survey took place in June 2021 and saw 2,650+ respondents.

This survey effort was made possible thanks to generous support from the Energy Foundation, via the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge.

What we learned from the surveys

In the 2021 follow up to the 2020 survey, 28% of respondents predict they will drive upon returning to work versus 22.7% who said they used to drive pre-COVID-19. While this predicts an increase in single occupancy vehicles, this new projection is much less than the 38% of respondents from October 2020 who said they plan to drive alone.

Almost half of all respondents from the 2021 survey reported that a subsidized transit pass would would incentivize a decrease in their drive-alone commuting.

In addition, more respondents from the 2021 survey (57% versus 42%) reported they would be comfortable biking to work over the next few months.

 

incentives

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.
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