By Rick Schuman, VP, Public Sector Americas (rick@inrix.com)

This is the fifth edition of a weekly review of changes in road traffic demand in the United States from the COVID-19 virus spread and our collective response.[1]  We will endeavor to publish this Synopsis every Monday for the foreseeable future, providing results through Friday of the previous week. For those interested in detailed information with daily updates, we have introduced the INRIX Traffic Volume Trends Dashboard.

Key Findings

  • Nationwide passenger travel stabilized, while commercial traffic continued its downward trend
    • Easter weekend likely lowered weekly averages
  • Nationally, when compared to typical travel,[2] Week 5 (Saturday, April 11 – Friday, April 17) saw:
    • Personal travel down 46% vs. 48% in Week 4, with increases Tuesday through Friday
    • Long haul truck travel down 13% vs. 10% in Week 4, with declines in every state nationwide
    • Local area commercial travel down 17% vs. 16% in Week 4, due primarily to Easter weekend
  • Travel decline leaders in Week 4:
    • Statewide Personal Travel: Hawaii and New Jersey, both down 60% vs. 61% and 62% last week
    • Statewide Long Haul Truck Travel: Michigan down 37% vs. 33% last week
    • Metro Area Personal Travel: New York City down 62% vs. 63% last week

Figure 1

Background
Our incoming data sources (The ‘INRIX Fleet’) provides anonymous speed/location reporting to us in real-time and generates over 100 million trips, traveling over 1 billion total miles per day across the US. The INRIX Fleet provides information about all roads in the national network, not just major roads and spans the full range of vehicle types: consumer vehicles, local fleets, long haul trucks.

We have re-purposed our INRIX Trips metadata – with only a 48-hour lag – to generate relevant summary level information about traffic demand.[3]   In this extraordinary time, we hope that this information will be useful to policy makers and the public. We look forward to the week, hopefully soon, when we can report on congestion and volume growth – as this will be a sure sign of recovery.

Synopsis
It has been five full weeks since travel began its noticeable decline nationwide. Figure 1 shows the relative change in passenger vehicle travel from March 1, relative to the comparable day of the week during the control week of February 22 – 28, 2020. Figure 1 also includes a weekly rolling average, which shows overall travel stabilizing nationally.  Passenger travel slightly reversed previously declines, down 46% in Week 5 compared to 48% in Week 4. This is the first week on week increase since March 14th.  The increase occurred even with a larger than typical drop in weekend travel over Easter weekend.  This may mean that the travel decline at the national level may be bottoming out.

State Level Passenger Travel volatility continued.  38 states increased travel in Week 5 compared to Week 4, up from 28 states last week.  13 states increased travel 3% or more, while 6 declined 3% or more.  The lists below highlight the states with the highest and lowest relative change in travel overall, and the biggest changes in Week 5 compared to Week 4:

  • Most Overall Declines in Week 5:
    • New Jersey (40%), Hawaii (40%), Michigan (42%), Connecticut (46%), Florida (46%)
  • Least Overall Declines in Week 5:
    • Arkansas (31%), Idaho (31%), Alaska (32%), Wyoming (36%), Oregon (37%)
  • Largest Declines in Travel Compared to Week 4:
    • Wyoming (12%), South Dakota (7%), Nebraska (6%), Montana (5%), Colorado (5%)
  • Largest Increases in Travel Compare to Week 4:
    • Maine (6%), Mississippi (5%), California (5%), Georgia (5%), Alaska (4%)

Figure 2 shows the weekly rolling average trend for each state, all are now in the range of 30% to 60% relative drop in travel showing that every state regardless of region and restrictions, has seen a significant impact on travel.

Figure 2 – Rolling 7-Day Average of Relative Passenger Vehicle Travel, by State
(Red Dotted Line is National Average)

Nationwide Long Haul Truck travel continues to decline in Week 5, down 13%, compared to 10% last week. Declines around Easter weekend appeared to add to a continued slight downward trend in overall travel. Every state had reduced truck travel from the previous week. 26 states had greater than 10% reductions from the Control Week, an increase from 15 states last week. Michigan continued with the largest drop, now 37%, with Kentucky and Texas now tied for second, both down 20%.

Metropolitan Area[4] travel increased overall this week.  Across the 98 metropolitan areas we are tracking in this Synopsis, 78 increased travel week over week.  28 areas increased travel 3% or more from last week, whereas only four areas decreased travel 3% or more. The lists below highlight the metropolitan areas with the highest and lowest relative change in travel overall, and the biggest changes in Week 5 compared to Week 4:

  • Most Overall Declines in Week 5:
    • New York (63%), Detroit (62%), Orlando (61%), Lansing, MI (59%), Miami (59%)
  • Least Overall Declines in Week 5:
    • Little Rock (34%), Visalia, CA (35%), Spokane (36%), Boise (37%), Greenville, SC (37%)
  • Largest Declines in Travel Compared to Week 4:
    • Denver (7%), Des Moines (5%), Omaha (5%), Colorado Springs (4%), Toledo (2%)
  • Largest Increases in Travel Compare to Week 4:
    • Salinas, CA (7%), Chattanooga (7%), Bakersfield (6%), McAllen, TX (6%), Visalia, CA (6%)

A final note this week on seasonal adjustments.  Ordinarily at this time of year, travel would be increasing significantly in the spring as compared to the winter months.[5]  Double digit increases in travel for April as compared to February would be expected. Obviously this is no ordinary year.

[1] Previous Issues can be found on the INRIX Blog site

[2] Given the day of week pattern of travel demand, we compare a given day and area to the same day/area in a previous week, and we are using the week commencing Saturday, February 22, 2020 as our ‘control week’

[3] Metadata used is total trip distance of all INRIX Trips originating in the country/state/region each day

[4] INRIX has established 98 metropolitan area geographies for internal purposes; these are the areas used in this analysis

[5] https://www.bts.gov/explore-topics-and-geography/topics/seasonally-adjusting-vehicle-miles-traveled