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Could coronavirus permanently impact our 'daily commute' habits?

Posted at 2:58 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-26 07:01:39-04

PHOENIX — The rat race and daily rush hour is a reality no more for many Arizonans now laid off or working from home.

But could this virus forever change what our commute looks like?

"Generally, traffic tracks with the economy," said Ram Pendyala. "And so it's a very positive thing to have people moving about, engaging and interacting and taking advantage of all the land use environment offers."

Pendyala is the director of Arizona State University's School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

He believes there are pros and cons with fewer cars on the roads.

"There's less traffic, so there's less pollution," Pendyala said. "Less energy consumption... less wear and tear on the roadways."

We can see that as an example with images captured by NASA from space, showing China's incredible change in pollution.

That, of course, is a positive.

But, congestion has its advantages too.

"Transportation is good and traffic is actually a sign of vitality," Pendyala explained.

He estimates roughly 20 - 25% of normal traffic is down since the coronavirus pandemic began.

If we are able to get control of it soon, Pendyala thinks that major transportation changes are not likely.

"If it's kind of short-term when things get restored... it is likely that things will largely rebound to the original state," Pendyala said.

However, his concern would be if this would last into the fall or further and how the future of transportation could look much different.

We could see less shared modes of transportation, like buses or Uber/Lyft because people are afraid of shared spaces.

"People will have a certain degree of nervousness," Pendyala said. "And again, I think that will depend on how long this lasts."

Overall, this transportation expert believes we have seen similar hardships before in the last two decades - like 9/11 and the recession.

"Generally, over time - even if things have that lasting effect, the permanent change is rather modest," Pendyala said.

It may take time, but he believes Americans and our commutes will eventually get back on track.