Commuters Hit the Road as Some Workplaces Reopen

Oil Prices Are Up, Public Transportation Ridership Is Down

As some sectors of the economy gradually reopen, people are relying on their cars to get them to work. Public transit, once the primary transportation method for many city-dwellers around the world, has seen staggering decreases in ridership since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. This is largely because crowded rush hour trains make social distancing impossible.

Though some people are returning to work, they are not yet returning to trains and busses. They are driving instead. This is renewing the demand for oil, which just weeks ago saw futures plunge below $0 per barrel.

A Look Around the World

Data from Apple Maps (AAPL) shows that in cities across the globe, searches for driving directions are inching up more quickly than those for public transit directions. In Ottawa, Canada, Apple’s data shows that requests for driving directions have rebounded to 40% of pre-coronavirus levels, while public transit direction requests are still at 80% below levels seen before the pandemic.

The roads are even busier in Berlin, where mass transit ridership is down 61%—but requests for driving directions shows that the number of people traveling by car has increased to 28% below normal levels. In Madrid, public transit ridership is still down 87%, about the same as April, while driving is only at 68% below pre-pandemic levels.

In the US, states that have been quick to reopen, like Florida, are seeing gasoline sales increase quickly. The US overall saw fuel consumption increase by 400,000 barrels per day during the last week of April.

Protecting the Environment Post-Coronavirus

One upside of having fewer cars on the roads during shutdowns was a decline in carbon emissions. The International Energy Agency reported that lockdowns caused the largest reduction in carbon emissions ever recorded—an 8% drop.

Environmental activists worry that the low price of gasoline will mean people will now drive more. Additionally, an economic downturn could mean that fewer people are able to buy electric cars.

Alternatively, it’s possible that some of the habits formed during quarantine, like working from home, will become more permanent, which could help reduce carbon levels. Additionally, people traveling in the months ahead may opt to drive instead of fly, both for financial reasons and because of public health concerns. This could also result in carbon emissions staying lower.

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