RELEASE: New Analysis Shows Clear Drop in Transportation Emissions from Pandemic with Increased Remote Work Opportunities

Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fell 40% at the beginning of the pandemic, but rebounded by last October — far quicker than anyone expected

Berkeley, Calif. New analysis published from Breakthrough Institute Climate & Energy Analyst Juzel Lloyd shows a clear drop in transportation emissions since 2019, due largely to the pandemic and rise in remote work opportunities. Juzel explores these impacts and other questions — specifically, who has access to remote work and education?

The pandemic has provided us with an important window to examine how behavioral changes impact transportation emissions, specifically the role remote work will have in reducing them. Further, following the quick recovery of VMT to pre-pandemic levels, it further emphasizes the trends that underlie our economy. Namely, that people will choose car ownership if given the option and that we should be more focused on electric vehicles.

Juzel writes, “In 2019, transportation emissions accounted for 29% of US greenhouse gas emissions, 58% of which were from light-duty vehicles. In 2020, transportation emissions saw a decrease of 15% due to the decrease in petroleum usage. Up until September, vehicular emissions for 2021 still lagged behind 2019 levels by 7% but this could quickly change as recovery is occurring faster than we anticipated.”

Click here to read the full analysis.

Juzel Lloyd is available for comment and/or interview.

The author continues, “At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a 40% decrease in VMT per capita. This drop proved short-lived, and by the summer of 2021, VMT per capita rose back to 98% of pre-pandemic levels. By October 2021, VMT per capita was at 97% of its pre-pandemic level, surpassing conditions for the same period of months after the great recession. Given the fluctuating situation with COVID-19, there is still much time needed to determine what will be a long-term trend for this time.”

In conclusion, Juzel highlights a number of factors that will play out over the coming years: “However the tide turns, it will be interesting to observe how the pandemic acts as a source for behavioral shifts possibly lasting decades, and more importantly how we learn from them. For years now, the green movement has included added pressure on encouraging cycling instead of driving, pushing for added bicycle lanes in cities, and even saw some success with the spread of e-bikes throughout major cities. But the reliance on people’s voluntary behavioral changes will only go so far when the decision is affected by multiple factors.”

Will these changes, like remote work and education opportunities stay with us? Or will people revert back to previous pre-pandemic habits?