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Post-pandemic return to work trends report

Transforming Trends into Lasting Positive Change, new COB/ABC report offers roadmap for navigating post-pandemic return to work trends

BOSTON - Monday, August 16, 2021 - The City of Boston, in collaboration with A Better City (ABC), has released two reports to better understand post-pandemic commuter trends.  Both reports build on results of ‘Anticipating Post-Pandemic Commute Trends in Metro-Boston’—a survey of over 4,200 commuters completed in September 2020. 

In comparing 2,650+ Spring 2021 survey responses from Metro-Boston commuters against 4,200+ responses from Summer 2020, the reports highlight key takeaways and actionable recommendations as workplaces plan their post-pandemic workforce policies. 

Key findings from the employee survey demonstrated some welcome projected shifts to more sustainable and green commuting compared to summer 2020. The projected post pandemic drive-alone commuting rates have dropped 10 percentage points since the previous commuter survey. In addition, 6.5% of respondents from spring 2021 said they used to bike to work, while 9.48% said they plan to bike to work in the future. Compared with the 2020 survey in which 4.4% said they used to bike to work and 8% said they planned to in the future. At 49%, subsidized transit passes remain the top measure identified by SOV commuters that would incentivize a decrease in their drive-alone commuting.

A Better City conducted 11 interviews with metro-Boston companies across six sectors in fall 2020 and winter 2021 to forecast, from the employer perspective, the ‘future of work’ and related commute patterns. In interviews with employers, several key patterns emerged. Flexible scheduling and remote work options are now expected by the private sector, and the return to the office is likely to incorporate a hybrid work model for many companies. 

Throughout the pandemic, the City of Boston improved the City’s bike infrastructure as part of the Healthy Streets initiative. In 2020, 6.5 miles of separated bike lanes were completed in order to create more connections for Boston’s commuters. In 2021, an additional 4.5 miles of separated bike lanes will be completed. A recent MassInc poll found that Boston-area voters are largely supportive of creating bike lanes separated from cars (75%) and adding more parking for bikes (72%).

Most popular was setting aside more space for outdoor seating (83% support) and dining (79%), which many cities and towns did to help local businesses and encourage outdoor recreation during the pandemic. Close behind were two policies aimed at bicycling: creating bike lanes separated from cars (75%) and adding more parking for bikes (72%).

The employee survey and employer interviews demonstrated that telecommuting, even part-time, will continue for many workers. 

“As workers return in person, commuting by public and active transportation is vital to the City of Boston,” stated Boston Mayor Kim Janey “Boston is committed to investing in bus, bike and rail by increasing access with new programs like the Route 28 Fare Free Pilot and working to improve infrastructure for all riders.” 

“This supplemental survey data shows clearly that commuter attitudes are shifting toward greater comfort using public transit and active modes like bicycling,” said Scott Mullen, Transportation Demand Management Director for A Better City. “With such a large majority of them living ten miles or less from their workplace, we have a huge opportunity to build back better and to avoid the crippling congestion that we suffered prior to the pandemic. To succeed in this we all have a role to play. We need leadership from the Mayor’s office and the corner office, from the MBTA and from all of us traveling in and around Boston.”

The 20-30 question survey, depending on skip logic, received responses from May to June of this year and was available in five languages including Spanish, Haitian Creole, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cape Verdean Creole. The survey was advertised on City of Boston social media and communication channels. To incentivize respondents to complete the survey, 20 Bluebikes monthly memberships were available on a raffle basis. 

To read the report on the results of the survey, visit our survey website.

First phase: Survey of 4,200+ Boston employees in 2020. Read the first phase report.

Second Phase: Interviews with eleven large employers on the future of work. Read the second phase report here.

Third Phase: Follow up survey of 2,650+ employees on commuting behavior in June 202. Read the third phase report here.


Our mission is to plan, build, maintain, and operate our streets in a manner that increases access to opportunities, promotes safety and resilience, and fosters the highest quality of life for everyone living, working, and visiting our City.


A Better City is a diverse group of business leaders united around a common goal—to enhance Boston and the region’s economic health, competitiveness, vibrancy, sustainability and quality of life. By amplifying the voice of the business community through collaboration and consensus across a broad range of stakeholders, A Better City develops solutions and influences policy in three critical areas central to the Boston region’s economic competitiveness and growth: transportation and infrastructure, land use and development, and energy and environment.


The Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge is an initiative to reduce emissions in 25 of America’s largest cities. Recognizing that cities account for more than 70% of global carbon emissions–and that mayors have significant authority over high-emitting sectors: transportation and buildings–the Climate Challenge provides support to cities working to realize their aggressive carbon reduction goals. With transportation as the largest single sector of carbon emissions in the US, implementing projects that reduce reliance on personal vehicles is critical to addressing climate change.

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