Trip patterns also have changed markedly since the pandemic began, based on a data tool provided by IDOT. In particular, the number of weekday trips by any travel mode has rebounded significantly. When the pandemic began, trips decreased by about 40 percent in April and May 2020 compared to February 2020.
The average distance of trips also decreased, going from an average of 5.9 miles in February 2020 to 4.6 miles in April 2020. Fewer commuters because of the pandemic likely caused trip lengths to decrease. Some employees began to work from home by April, and many others were furloughed or let go. As a result, more residents in northeastern Illinois stayed close to home. The share of trips under 2.5 miles went from 43 percent in March 2020 to almost 60 percent in May 2020.
Throughout the pandemic, the number of trips taken between 11:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. has remained relatively stable. Many employers who are considered essential, such as health care, food manufacturing, and transportation, rely on shift workers. The steady number of overnight trips likely reflects an identifying characteristic of essential workers — the late-night commute. Data through June 2021 also show the number of trips during the middle of the day have surpassed pre-pandemic levels, while the number of trips taken during the afternoon peak have nearly returned to normal levels.
Trip data also mirrors findings from a previous CMAP analysis that looked at essential workers in northeastern Illinois. Based on CMAP’s findings, essential workers disproportionately live in communities with low incomes and high concentrations of people of color. Since CMAP started tracking changes to transportation during the pandemic, the data has shown residents who live in areas with lower incomes take more trips than higher-income areas.
The data show the number of trips starting in census tracts where the median household income is 30 percent below the regional average has not declined as much as higher-income areas. These trends reflect the options many residents with higher incomes have during the pandemic, from being able to work remotely to shopping online for supplies.
As trips continued to rebound through early 2021, the gap in travel between income groups began to shrink. Through the spring and summer, trips taken by all of the income groups surged, with the top three income categories growing the most. By the end of June, trips taken by all income groups returned to pre-pandemic levels.