Transportation’s moving target: Wave of relocations prompted by COVID-19

Americans are getting more comfortable with the idea of moving around again.

Quite literally. As the COVID-19 pandemic grinds on, the number of U.S. residents looking to pull up roots and move elsewhere within the country is on the rise.

Whether because of concerns about being cooped up in major cities or the newfound flexibility provided by remote work, the percentage of U.S. residents requesting a move from United Van Lines rose 32 percent in September compared with the same month in 2019.

That stands in dramatic contrast to the early months of the pandemic, which brought moving activity down 26 percent in March and 31 percent in April over the 2019 data.

United Van Lines surveyed 6,000 customers between March and August 2020, and their answers offer a fascinating glimpse at how Americans are weathering the pandemic and plotting coping strategies that portend substantial shifts in, among other things, everyday transportation needs.

Places with the highest percentage of movers who listed COVID-19 as a contributing factor in their departures?

Washington, D.C., New York, Nevada and Oregon. The top inbound states receiving those concerned with COVID-19: Vermont, North Dakota, Connecticut, Montana and Michigan.

Concerns for personal and family health are the primary catalyst for movers whose decisions have been influenced by COVID-19, followed by a desire to be closer to their families, according to the survey. Changes in employment status and ability to work remotely, along with the desire for lifestyle and quality of life improvement are also top factors.

While COVID-19’s immediate effect on transportation has been well documented, with fluctuations in vehicle miles traveled, diminished ridership on public transit and a plunge in the number of air passengers, it’s worth considering what ripple effects might come from the migration underway further down the road.

How would a remote work force over the long haul affect traffic congestion? How will the exodus underway in San Francisco and New York impact public-transit ridership? Will vehicle sales diminish if workers no longer need their commuter cars?

Perhaps it’s too early to have any firm answers. But the changes occurring are swift. And we’re only at the beginning of understanding how these big moves might affect the way so many get around.

— Pete Bigelow

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