The Bay Area’s share of automobile-based commuting declined 15 percentage points between 2019 and 2021, primarily as a result of a shift caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regional mode shares have shifted tremendously for Bay Area commuters in the aftermath of the pandemic. While approximately 60% of commuters still drove to work on a typical workday in 2021, the share of the region’s commuters making this choice declined by 15 percentage points from 2019 to 2021.
From 2019 to 2021, regional transit mode share decreased from 13.2% to 3.5%. This decrease in transit mode share has resulted in the lowest share of commuters utilizing this mode since 1960. Similarly, the share of commuters who chose to walk or use other modes of transportation are also at record lows amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. These recent unprecedented trends have been powered primarily by commuters skipping the commute and working from home instead.
of Bay Area commuters drove to work (alone or carpool) in 2019
of Bay Area commuters relied on public transit in 2019
of Bay Area commuters worked from home in 2019
Commute Mode Choice for the Region and Counties
Major shifts across regional mode choice have largely been driven by the shift towards work from home that started during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the years leading up to pandemic, most Bay Area counties (excluding some North Bay counties) were seeing a decrease in the share of commuters who drove to work. Some counties, particularly those directly adjacent to the San Francisco Bay, were even seeing an increase in the share of commuters who took transit to work. San Francisco had the highest transit mode share, with over 36% of residents taking transit to work in 2019.
Mode share percentages dramatically changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2019 and 2021, all nine counties experienced a tremendous decrease in the share of commuters who drove or took transit to work and experienced a corresponding increase in the share of commuters who worked from home. In 2021, 45% of San Francisco residents telecommuted, the highest share among all Bay Area counties. Marin, Santa Clara, Alameda and San Mateo counties follow closely behind with nearly 35% of their residents working from home in 2021.
In 2021, over 45% of commuters living in San Francisco worked from home, the highest of all Bay Area counties
Historical Trend for Commute Mode Choice
Active modes of transportation like walking and biking play a large role in many communities.
Active modes of transportation, or transportation powered by human physical activity, provides a wide variety of benefits such as conserving fuel, reducing vehicle emissions, bridging the first- and last-mile gap, and improving individual and public health. Top locations where residents biked to work in 2021 include East Bay cities like Berkeley and Albany, and cities in Silicon Valley like Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View. Top locations where residents walked to work in 2021 include San Francisco and Berkeley. Cities in Napa County like Yountville, Calistoga and St. Helena are also among the top cities where residents walked to work in 2021.
In 2021, approximately 15% of commuters living in the City of Berkeley walked to work
Commute Mode Choice for Cities and Neighborhoods (2021)
Relative to other large metro areas in 2021, the Bay Area has a large share of commuters who work from home.
In the early 2020s, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed the way workers commuted. The most notable way commuting has changed across the nation is the rise of remote work. In 2019 in large metro areas, the share of workers who worked from home was generally in the single digit percentages. By 2021, the percentage of workers working from home increased by double-digit percentage points for many metros areas. For example, the Bay Area and Washington, DC are at the extreme end of this trend where from 2019 to 2021 the percentage of workers working from home increased from 7% to 33% for the Bay Area and from 6% to 36% in Washington, DC. This is in contrast to metro areas like Houston and Miami, where the percentage of workers working from home in both metro areas increased by a smaller amount from around 5% in 2019 to around 16% in 2022. While there is some variation in the exact degree to which commuting has changed under COVID-19, it remains generally true that commuting to work is dramatically different in the pre-COVID vs post-COVID world.
In 2021, approximately 33% of commuters living in Bay Area worked from home, among the highest rates in the nation
Metro Comparison for Commute Mode Choice (2021)
Sources & Methodology
Commute mode choice, also known as commute mode share, refers to the mode of transportation that a commuter usually uses to travel to work, such as driving alone, biking, carpooling or taking transit. For the decennial Census datasets, the breakdown of auto commuters between drive alone and carpool is not available before 1980. American Community Survey 1-year data is used for larger geographies – Bay counties and most metropolitan area counties – while smaller geographies rely upon 5-year rolling average data due to their smaller sample sizes. This will result in discrepancies in cases like San Francisco where it is both a city and a county. Note that 2020 data uses the 5-year estimates because the ACS did not collect 1-year data for 2020. Additionally, for the County by place of residence breakdown, Napa was missing ACS 1-Year commute mode choice data for all modes for 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2021. 5-Year estimates were used to fill the missing data for 2011 and 2021, but not 2007 or 2008 since the 5-Year estimates start in 2009.
Regional mode shares are population-weighted averages of the nine counties' modal shares. "Auto" includes drive alone and carpool for the simple data tables and is broken out in the detailed data tables accordingly, as it was not available before 1980. "Transit" includes public operators (Muni, BART, etc.) and employer-provided shuttles (e.g., Google shuttle buses). "Other" includes motorcycle, taxi, and other modes of transportation; bicycle mode share was broken out separately for the first time in the 2006 data and is shown in the detailed data tables. Census tract data is not available for tracts with insufficient numbers of residents or workers.
The metropolitan area comparison was performed for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area in addition to the primary metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) for other major metropolitan areas.