In areas where stay-home orders have been lifted and commerce has resumed, people are choosing their cars rather than public transit. They’d rather sit in traffic for an hour than spend half an hour risking virus exposure from strangers on a train or bus.
It’s too soon to say whether this change is permanent. In some parts of Asia that reopened earlier than the rest of the world, people are venturing back onto trains. And it’s unclear whether global gasoline demand will ever fully recover.
But on the streets of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, morning traffic is now higher than 2019 averages while subway use is well below normal, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. Volume on Beijing’s metro system is 53 percent below pre-virus levels. Subway usage rates in Shanghai and Guangzhou are down 29 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
American motor fuel distributor Pilot Flying J have seen the trend. “People are thinking about their travel plans for this summer and many are considering road trips due to people feeling more comfortable driving,” says the company’s Chief Experience Officer Whitney Haslam Johnson.
A similar pattern played out in China during the Labour Day holiday in May. Over the first four days of the holiday, car trips in Beijing jumped 15 percent, while trips by plane and train in and out of the city fell 76 percent and 86 percent, respectively, according to government data.