ST. PAUL — Asked their preferences, most telecommuting workers surveyed in the Twin Cities metro said they’d prefer to keep working remotely at least a few days per week.
Vehicular travel across the metro remains 20% below normal, and work commutes by car have dropped 58% during the pandemic. Even bike commuting is down 67%.
Transit riders are feeling dubious that face masks and rear-door boarding will be enough to keep them safe from COVID-19, and transit work commutes have plummeted 85%.
In May, the Metropolitan Council surveyed residents across the metro about their transportation habits during the pandemic.
More than 3,200 residents responded, and officials with the regional planning agency are now combing through the results for clues on travel trends and guidance on future transit policy.
Among the findings, tele-work has increased eight times over, but workers earning less than $50,000 are half as likely to be working remote jobs as those earning more money.
“There’s this huge shift of people tele-working all the time now, including people who never tele-worked before,” said Ashley Asmus, a researcher with the Met Council.
Workers appear to be adjusting. In all, 38% of tele-workers said they’d prefer to keep tele-working five days a week, and 43% said they’d like to tele-work two-to-four days per week.
“Very few people wanted to reduce their tele-working completely,” Asmus said. She noted workers predicted their employers would let them continue to work from home.
Here to stay?
Is tele-work here to stay?
What segments of the population are not working from home? How will those trends impact transit funding sources such as gas taxes and motor vehicle sales taxes? And how best to protect transit riders, alter fares and encourage or discourage transit use during the pandemic?
The May survey doesn’t necessarily answer those questions in full, but it does provide a telling initial glimpse of how transportation has evolved during a public health crisis with little local precedent. The Met Council plans more surveys in coming weeks.
The survey participants were recruited from a larger pool of 8,800 adults that had responded to a previous travel inventory survey conducted by the Met Council in 2019.
Roughly 9% of respondents in May were people of color, numbers that officials acknowledge under-represent the count in the total state population (20%) and among public transit users in general.
“We’d like to see that number increase in future surveys, and we’re investigating ways to increase that representativeness,” said Asmus, who presented the survey findings to the Met Council’s transportation committee on Monday.
Roughly 15% of respondents said they were unemployed, which exceeds official unemployment numbers — 9.9% — reported by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development at the time.
About 74% of respondents in the weighted surveys felt COVID-19 was a major public health threat to the general American public, which exceeds the level of concern shown in national surveys.
Only about 35% of metro respondents, however, felt the virus was a threat to their household or to themselves individually. Asian-Americans showed particular concern.
Asked about what improvements might lure them back to public transit, 825 respondents shared feedback, but confidence in measures such as rear-door boarding and mandatory face masks was low.
Work-related commutes by transit have fallen 85% during the pandemic, but how workers have adjusted varies heavily by income.
Some 54% of workers earning more than $50,000 now work remotely, according to survey responses. At 24%, tele-work among lower-paid workers was less than half that.
Prior to the pandemic, workers earning $50,000 or less were more likely to use public transit than workers who earned more money. That’s still true today.
“Many of them continue to ride transit to work,” Asmus said. “Many are now unemployed. A handful switched to driving. Some of them are now tele-working, as well.”
Transit ridership has dropped heavily for workers in either income category, in part because of an active campaign by Metro Transit in the early days of the pandemic to discourage transit use for non-essential trips.