Understanding Socioeconomic Disparities in Travel Behavior during the COVID-19 Pandemic

70 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2020 Last revised: 26 Dec 2020

See all articles by Rebecca Brough

Rebecca Brough

University of Notre Dame

Matthew Freedman

University of California, Irvine - Department of Economics

David Phillips

Wilson Sheehan Lab for Econonomic Opportunities, Department of Economics

Date Written: December 12, 2020

Abstract

We document the magnitudes of and mechanisms behind socioeconomic differences in travel behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. We focus on King County, Washington, one of the first places in North America where COVID-19 was detected. We leverage novel and rich administrative and survey data on travel volumes, modes, and preferences for different demographic groups. Large average declines in travel and public transit use due to the pandemic and related policy responses mask substantial heterogeneity across socioeconomic groups. Travel declined considerably less among less-educated and lower-income individuals, even after accounting for mode substitution and variation across neighborhoods in the impacts of public transit service reductions. As policy became less restrictive and travel increased, the size of the socioeconomic gap in travel behavior remained stable, and remote work capabilities became increasingly important in explaining this gap. Our results imply that disparities in travel behavior across socioeconomic groups may become an enduring feature of the urban landscape.

Keywords: COVID-19, coronavirus, mobility, transportation, public transit, commuting, inequality

JEL Classification: R41, J61, H12

Suggested Citation

Brough, Rebecca and Freedman, Matthew and Phillips, David, Understanding Socioeconomic Disparities in Travel Behavior during the COVID-19 Pandemic (December 12, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3624920 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3624920

Rebecca Brough

University of Notre Dame ( email )

361 Mendoza College of Business
Notre Dame, IN 46556-5646
United States

Matthew Freedman (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine - Department of Economics ( email )

3151 Social Science Plaza
Irvine, CA 92697-5100
United States

David Phillips

Wilson Sheehan Lab for Econonomic Opportunities, Department of Economics ( email )

361 Mendoza College of Business
Notre Dame, IN 46556-5646
United States

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