There Will Be Less Bay Area Commuters Post-Pandemic

A poll found that one-third of Bay Area residents plan to commute to an office less than they did pre-pandemic, and only 20 percent of respondents expect to take public transit in the future.

(TNS) — Around 34 percent of California's Bay Area residents plan to commute to the office less in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a major shift that could reshape the region's work and transit systems, according to a new poll.

The percentage of fully remote workers is expected to increase to 16 percent — a total of 640,000 people — up from 10 percent before the pandemic, according to the poll last month of 1,000 registered voters in the nine Bay Area counties. The Bay Area Council, a business group, sponsored the poll, which was conducted by EMC Research.

The impact on transit has been uneven, with public transit, carpooling, walking and biking all falling significantly during the pandemic, according to the poll. Only a partial rebound is expected: 15 percent of respondents are taking public transit at least twice a week during the pandemic, down from 29 percent. Only 20 percent expect to take it after the pandemic, and 64 percent of respondents believe public transit is currently unsafe. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Meanwhile, car ridership has stayed high during the pandemic, with 77 percent of poll respondents using a car at least two to three times per week, up from 76 percent before the pandemic. That percentage is expected to dip only slightly, to 74 percent, after the pandemic. Five of the Bay Area's eight toll bridges, including the Bay Bridge, now have over 90 percent of their pre-pandemic traffic levels, according to a Chronicle analysis. Meanwhile, BART daily ridership was as much as 88 percent below projections last month.

"There's definitely a lot more traffic on the highways," Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, said during a Tuesday media briefing. "This region won't do well if folks aren't willing to get on transit."

"Promoting safe return to transit ... is going to be a really big deal for us in the weeks and months ahead," he said.

A slight majority of 51 percent of respondents feel that working in an office is currently unsafe. Wunderman said he was encouraged by the plans of major employers like Salesforce to return to the office and low levels of coronavirus cases in the area compared with the rest of the country.

"I think there's a beginning of a movement taking place to get back, and I think it's important to a lot of people to get back. It's important to the economy to get back," Wunderman said.

Professional services and tech workers are more likely to work at home, with 53 percent of those workers expecting to go to the office less often, compared with the 34 percent overall figure. Only 26 percent of retail, tourism, hospitality and arts workers plan to commute less.

The more affluent also work remotely at a higher rate, with 47 perecnt of people making over $150,000 per year expecting to commute less, according to the poll. Only 22 percent of those making less than $50,000 plan to do the same.

(c)2021 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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