VMT could drop by 10 percent in post-COVID world

By Saumya Jain

Since the COVID-19 lockdown began, we’ve witnessed a substantial decline in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT). A similar dip during the 2008-09 recession persisted for several years, and this one may do the same. A new report from the KPMG group suggests that we can expect up to a 9.2 percent long-term reduction in annual VMT. The report bases these estimates on the continued interest in teleworking, by both employers and employees, and an increased overall reliance on e-commerce.

The paper looked at two of the main household VMT generators―commuting and shopping. Using data from StreetLight and estimates from various employee and employer preference surveys, the KPMG paper estimates that 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. workforce could permanently switch to remote working. Looking at historic e-commerce trends and recent changes due to the pandemic, the paper estimates that shopping trips could decline by 10 to 30 percent. In addition to cutting VMT, this combined reduction could translate into a 2.5 to 5 percent drop in car ownership, KPMG estimated.

Figure 1 Results from KPMG analysis showing estimated potential decline in annual VMT (billion miles, light vehicles only) Source.

These estimates paint a promising picture, but it is crucial to have strategic policies that support and promote this positive change. A shift from public transportation to private vehicles, lower gas prices, and an increase in home deliveries are all factors that might offset the impact of reduced commuting and shopping trips. VMT reduction strategies could help ensure we witness this change and that it stays long term.

Photo credit: Virginia DOT

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