Toronto, Ontario — Coronavirus-induced lockdowns caused annual traffic congestion to fall in most countries, including Canada, disrupting long-held traffic patterns like the dreaded morning commute to work, a report released last week showed.
Traffic congestion declined sharply on roads in crowded cities like Los Angeles, Toronto, Bengaluru and Mexico City in 2020, said location technology company TomTom. The pandemic is expected to weigh again on traffic congestion this year, said Nick Cohn, TomTom’s senior traffic expert.
“We’re going to see continued restrictions through the first half of the year, and I think we’re going to see a lot of ups and downs before we’re really getting back to any normal driving patterns and traffic activity levels,” Cohn told Reuters in an interview.
TomTom’s report is based on data from 416 cities in 57 countries. It has published its traffic index for 10 years.
Traffic patterns like the daily morning commute to work — a mainstay for decades — could shift because of increased flexibility around remote work for employees, Cohn said.
“In the U.S., Canada and Mexico, if you look at peak travel patterns, the morning peak seems to have melted away,” he said. “We have never seen that before.
Traffic congestion during rush hours last year decreased by 25 percent globally, said Stephanie Leonard, TomTom’s head of traffic innovation and policy.
As more people return to office following vaccine distributions, congestion levels could rise if commuters choose to avoid public transit and drive to office instead, said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.
The downturn in congestion in the United States was more prolonged compared with Europe last year because U.S. coronavirus cases stayed relatively high during the summer and early fall, Cohn said.
In the United States, Los Angeles, New York and Miami were the most congested cities, though traffic in each city dropped from 2019 levels by 36 percent, 30 percent and 26 percent, respectively, according to the TomTom data.
Overall, Moscow was the most congested city in 2020, but traffic still fell eight percent from 2019. Bengaluru was the most-congested city in the world in 2019, but it fell to sixth in 2020 with nearly a 30 percent drop in traffic year-on-year.
Traffic in London and Paris was almost 20 percent lower than in 2019, and traffic in Madrid and Rome dropped 35 percent and 29 percent, respectively. Berlin experienced only a six percent traffic fall compared with 2019.