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Comparing pandemic-related reductions in driving and flying in January

by Michael Sivak, Sivak Applied Research.

The current pandemic has not affected the different modes of mobility to the same degree. As is evident from my ongoing monthly monitoring of key transportation indexes, flying, riding the train, and taking public transit have all been influenced much more than driving. This applies both to the maximum reductions during the spring of 2020 and the degree of the rebound later in the year.

The latest population-adjusted data in my monitoring currently include October 2020 information for domestic flying (down 62% from October 2019), riding the train (down 70%), and taking public transit (down 62%), and November 2020 information for driving by all vehicles (down 12% from November 2019). This brief post compares published data for late January 2021 on the relative amount of driving on interstate highways and the number of persons passing through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints at airports as a proxy for the amount of flying.

The information for driving is for the 7-day period from January 18 through January 24 (week no. 3 of 2021), compared with the same week of 2019 (week no. 3). The source of this information is the Federal Highway Administration.

The information for the number of persons passing through the TSA checkpoints at airports is also for January 18 through January 24. This information was calculated from the daily counts published by the TSA for these seven days in January 2021, compared with the corresponding dates in 2019.

The results are shown in the table below. These results indicate that the reductions observed in late January 2021 are similar to the reductions for driving and flying in late fall of 2020 documented in my monthly monitoring.

Parameter Change from 2019 to 2021
Driving on interstates by all vehicles -7%
Driving on interstates by passenger vehicles -11%
TSA inspections -63%

Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.


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