Work and Commuting in COVID’s Next Phase
Over the past two weeks cities and states have scaled back, or at least started to talk about scaling back, their pandemic-related restrictions. The CDC also released guidelines for determining prevention measures at the country level.
- California unveiled its SMARTER plan to manage COVID-19 during an endemic phase.
- Chicago and Cook County will lift requirements for proof of vaccine and mask mandates on Feb. 28 for restaurants, grocery stores or other indoor spaces
- New York City didn’t give an exact timeline, but the Mayor is eager to roll back the city’s coronavirus vaccine and mask mandates for indoor settings
- Washington, DC is also letting its mask mandate expire on Feb. 28.
As overall cases decline and management of the pandemic shifts, this should result in improved economic activity in city centers. Offices are moving to what they hope is a more permanent flexible working environment; universities are having more activities on campus; and companies, like Google, are opening their amenity spaces for employees. But things aren’t likely to return to where they were in 2019.
State and local governments may need to prepare for a long-term period of changed behavior. For NYC, this means a new reality of far fewer office workers commuting on a daily basis; and nationally, retailers and producers may have to accept people continuing to do more at home and buying in bulk long-after these restrictions ease.
What is the “New Normal” for Transit Ridership?
- BART estimates ridership will only be 50% of normal by 2023 KRON News
- Special report: RTD faces a future clouded by new commuting patterns, staff shortages and big questions about service The Denver Post
- Metro’s prospects rise as omicron fades, but looming financial shortfall will shape service The Washington Post
- New York’s Commuter Rail Ridership May Never Reach Pre-Pandemic Levels Planetizen
Will Schools Operate with More Fully Remote Students?
- Is Remote Learning Here to Stay? Yes, But It Needs to Get Better Education Week
- Pennsylvania is the nation’s ‘cyber charter capital,’ with funding and oversight consequences, report says The Philadelphia Inquirer
- Michigan enrollment ticks up, but pandemic losses continue for city districts Chalkbeat Detroit
- N.Y. public school enrollment expected to drop sharply for 2nd consecutive year Times Union
Tourism Could Have a Banner Year
- Hotels hit highest occupancy of the year Crain’s New York
- Get Ready For A Major Travel And Tourism Recovery This Year, New Study Says Seeking Alpha
- Global tourism recovery remains ‘conditional on vaccination’ Travel Weekly
CHARTS OF THE WEEK
When thinking about transit, I prefer the average 5-day work week ridership as a metric over day-to-day comparisons. It better accounts for return to office dynamics — it’s also better than looking at a singe day high compared to 2020 or 2019.
This 5-day average for the MTA reached a high of 62% the second week of Dec for New York City subways, before disruption by Omicron.
The Citizens Budget Commission shows similar results on their seven-day rolling average — but how should we measure transit ridership? At some point there needs to be recognition of a new operating model. Waiting to return to pre-COVID ridership may never happen. But without those riders many transit operations are at risk, particularly bus service:
- Bus driver shortage drives Metro Transit to change 18 bus routes beginning March 21 St Louis Public Radio
- Bus service for WV’s five largest transit systems in jeopardy The Journal
- StarTran ridership still below pre-pandemic levels, rides remain free 1011 NOW (Nebraska)
Recently, the MTA announced a reduction in the size of its projected budget deficit in 2025 to $500 million (down from $1.4 billion), due to increased state aid. But the MTA faces an estimated $2 billion deficit in 2026.
The size of the revenue challenge facing cities depends on the “share of a city’s workforce that routinely commuted in the past, the proportion that permanently switches to remote work, and the mix of local revenue sources,” according to a Pew States report. The chart below uses 2019 Census Bureau data to show the share of commuters among the workforces of 10 cities.
The commuter share is defined as the proportion of jobs in a city with employees who live outside the city. The data visualization also depicts the share of total jobs in the city that are in the finance, management, or professional sector.
The data shows that the lowest commuter share is in New York City (28%), but that many people work in one of the city’s five boroughs and live in another, rather than outside its borders. Although 19% of professional jobs may appear low, it represents the combining of all boroughs; when looking only at Manhattan, that share rises to 31%.
Continuing to examine shifting tax revenues from changing commuter patterns is something to think about when trying to forecast a city’s future. Major hubs, like San Francisco and New York City, are likely to face long-term challenges.
The Issue: The rise of remote work may outlast the pandemic, but will it affect when and how much employees work?
The move to remote work initially increased the average GitHub user’s hourly workweek by more than 15 percent and shifted work to nontraditional hours.