Remote Work v. Emissions v. Transit Ridership
Photo by Ed Murray

Remote Work v. Emissions v. Transit Ridership

Researchers are in the midst of trying to sort out the impacts of remote work since the pandemic on transit systems and the environment.

After falling to 20 percent of pre-pandemic levels at the onset of the pandemic in April 2020, public transit ridership has recovered to 79 percent. Transit riders took 7.1 billion trips on public transportation in 2023, a 16-percent increase over 2022, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which released a quarterly ridership update during its annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

“Current data remains limited, but indicators in several metro regions point to transit recovery being led by trips to and from residential and commercial areas as opposed to office/work centers,” according to the APTA. “More time and data are needed to determine if this transit demand shift will remain the driving force for ridership return.”

Meanwhile, a study published this week in Nature Cities estimates that a 10-percent decrease in on-site employees could yield an annual reduction of almost 192 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector. At the same time, it would cost transit agencies $3.7 billion in lost fare revenues each year within the contiguous United States. The impact, however, varies widely by region.

The estimate is based on a 1-percent decline in on-site employees that corresponds to a 0.99-percent reduction in state-level vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and a 2.26-percent drop in transit ridership. The study, “Impacts of remote work on vehicle miles traveled and transit ridership in the USA,” examined data between April 2020 and October 2022 across the 217 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in the United States.