Vehicle traffic hasn’t returned to the normal morning driving patterns—and probably never will.

ARLINGTON, Va.—The morning rush hour has largely dissipated, at least that’s the finding of a recent USA Today/Wejo report analyzing traffic data, USA Today reports. While more Americans are returning to the office, the morning drive time has been significantly altered—and may never return to pre-COVID-19 patterns.

Rush-hour traffic has elongated, shifting to later in the mornings as drivers avoid the traditional heavier traffic times. But with more Americans expected to head back to the office after Labor Day, overall volume will increase. However, traffic experts predict the flexible work arrangement enjoyed by many will continue, including remote work.

“The morning rush hour has gotten later, and it’s gotten flatter,” said Daniel Tibble, director of data science and analytics for Wejo. “In almost all scenarios, traffic is not dropping as much in the later hours and is dropping more in the earlier hours.”

In April 2021, total miles driven dropped 8.2% from April 2019, according to the Office of Highway Policy Information. In rural areas, traffic returned more, with April 2021 volumes decreasing 3.5% from April 2019. Urban traffic volumes decreased 10% during the same period.

Overall, fewer early commuters (between 6 and 8 a.m.) in many metro areas are on the road, meaning drivers are getting out later in the morning.

“More flexible work is taking the pressure off of people to get to work dead on 8 o’clock,” Tibble said. “If people can flex to improve their quality of life, people are going to want to do that. … A little flexibility in the office in terms of remote working means that people can choose to improve their quality of life.”

While the lack of traffic is a welcome change to commuters, it also means the morning daypart has also been stretched out, a key segment of the day that c-stores are attempting to capture. Even prior to the pandemic, breakfast was a prime target for c-stores, as detailed in “Rise & Shine” in NACS Magazine. However, the segment got hit when commuters were forced to shelter in place. Now that commuters are slowly coming back, foodservice retailers are stepping up for round two in their matchup to win breakfast. To read more about the progression of the capture of breakfast sales, read “Revitalizing Breakfast” in NACS Magazine.

Source: NACS