WA: As remote work soared in Seattle, this commute mode fell the most

Nov. 17, 2023
As remote work soared, every commute mode declined.

Nov. 16—It is surely one of the most dramatic societal changes brought about by the pandemic: the rise of remote work.

In 2019, around 36,000 Seattle residents worked from home on most days during the week, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey. People who worked from home accounted for around 8% of the city's employed residents.

Three years later, the number of city residents who typically worked from home increased more than fourfold to 165,000, or 36% of Seattle's employed residents, according to newly released census data.

As remote work soared, every commute mode declined. And some fell a lot more than others.

Driving alone to work declined the least. Before the pandemic, this was easily the most common mode of commuting among Seattle residents and significantly more common than working from home.

In 2019, 44.5% of Seattleites drove alone to work most days of the week. Driving alone remained No. 1 in 2022 but just barely. Around 37% of city residents drove to work solo in their cars, nearly tied with the 36% who worked remotely.

In raw numbers, driving alone among Seattle residents fell from 205,000 commuters in 2019 to 171,500 in 2022, a decline of 16.5%.

That seems like a big drop until you compare it to the number for public transit, which fell the most of any commute mode.

In 2019, one-quarter of Seattle residents went to work by train, bus or some other form of public transit. In 2022, the share of transit commuters fell to just 11.5%. In raw numbers, that's a drop from about 116,000 in 2019 to 53,000 in 2022, a 54.5% decline.

King County Metro's ridership data reflects this decline. In November 2019, there were 449,000 weekday boardings, on average. In November 2022, the number fell to 338,000. (Ridership improved in 2023, though average weekday boardings remained well below 2019 levels.).

This situation isn't unique to Seattle. Across the nation, public transit systems are struggling to recover from the pandemic.

Other "green" modes of commuting were also down far more than driving alone in Seattle. The number of Seattle residents who carpooled dropped by 36% from 2019 to 2022, while walking and biking to work were down by 33%.

The census data shows little difference in commuting modes between men and women. Men who live in Seattle were a little more likely to work from home than women in 2022, around 37% to 35%. Driving alone to work was roughly equal between men and women.

Biking to work is the exception — it's the one form of commuting where there has always been a significant gender gap. In 2022, about 7,600 men biked to work, compared with around 3,600 women.

The census data shows travel time to work fell during the pandemic. In 2022, the average travel time to work was a little less than 26 minutes, down from 28 minutes in 2019.

People who work from home are not included in the calculations for commute times, so they didn't directly bring down the average. But the fact that fewer people were on the road because they were working remotely is likely the main reason commute times eased up in 2022.


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