The Hours Americans Reclaimed by Sitting Less in Traffic

Commuters crossing busy 42nd Street in New York City, USA in afternoon.

Commuters crossing busy 42nd Street in New York City, USA in afternoon. ISTOCK.COM/BATUHANOZDEL

As the pandemic cut the amount of commuters and other motorists on the road last year, drivers nationwide saved over 3 billion hours compared to 2019, according to new estimates.

With fewer cars on the road last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans collectively claimed back millions of hours of time that they otherwise would have spent caught in traffic.

Drivers in the U.S. lost, on average, only 26 hours this year due to traffic, down from 99 hours in 2019, according to a new report from INRIX, Inc., a company that specializes in connected vehicle services and transportation analytics. Nationwide, drivers saved more than 3.4 billion hours, which the report says equates to $51 billion in time savings compared to 2019.

When looking specifically at major cities, traffic delays fell almost 50%, saving drivers an average of nearly 75 hours.

“Covid-19 has completely transformed when, where and how people move,” Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a statement.

“Morning commutes in cities across the world went without delay as people reduced auto and transit travel to offices, schools, shopping centers and other public spaces,” he added.

Urban areas in the U.S. where drivers saw the greatest declines with hours lost to traffic delays, when comparing last year to 2019, include: Washington, D.C. (-77%), Atlanta, Georgia (-75%), Portland, Oregon (-69%), Boston (-68%), Baltimore (-68%) and Seattle (-67%).

But even amid the pandemic, people still spent hours of time on crowded roadways. 

For instance, New York City drivers lost an average of 100 hours to traffic delays last year, the most among major cities. Trailing New York in the ranking of average lost hours per driver were: Philadelphia (94 hours), Chicago (86 hours), Boston (48 hours) and Los Angeles (45 hours).

Still, the top cities here also saw significant drops in how much time people were spending in gridlocked or crawling traffic compared to before the pandemic. In New York City, hours lost to traffic declined by 28%, in Philadelphia by 34% and Chicago, by 40%.

Nationwide, miles driven by people in passenger vehicles dropped to about 82% of pre-pandemic levels. But local and long-haul truck and freight carrier traffic was more or less on par with where it was before the virus hit.

More on the research findings can be found here

Brent Woodie is an associate editor at Route Fifty.

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