Daily miles traveled have largely followed the economic cycle, with more miles driven during economic booms than during recessions.
Although the number of daily miles estimated for vehicles in the Bay Area declined during the Great Recession, daily miles traveled increased on a moderate upwards trajectory during the 2010’s, with a new high set in 2019 with 182 million miles traveled on a typical day, a 14% increase above 2010 levels. On a per capita basis, daily travel in the Bay Area had remained stable from 2005 to 2019 at approximately 23 daily miles per person. At just 10 miles per capita in 2019, San Francisco has by far the lowest VMT per capita, as more trips here are done by walking, biking, transit or other modes, such as scooting.
During of the COVID-19 pandemic, daily miles traveled dropped considerably as millions stayed home from offices, restaurants and stores. The data show that during the COVID-19 pandemic, daily miles on per capita basis dropped sharply as well. This indicates a significant shift in the amount of miles Bay Area residents drive each day. It remains to be seen what trends in daily miles traveled will look like during the post-pandemic world.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, daily miles traveled in the Bay Area dropped by 21% between the years 2019 and 2020
Historical Trend for Daily Miles Traveled
The Bay Area’s per capita miles traveled is low relative to other major metro areas.
Among major metro areas, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and the Bay Area have relatively lower per capita daily miles traveled. This is in contrast to major metro areas like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston which have relatively higher per capita daily miles traveled. Perhaps surprisingly, the Bay Area’ per capita daily miles traveled is similar to that of Los Angeles, contradicting both the Bay Area’s reputation as being dense and walkable and Los Angeles’ reputation for being auto-oriented.
34miles per day
The typical resident of the Atlanta metro area drove 34 miles per day in 2020, almost twice the rate of the Bay Area
Metro Comparison for Daily Miles Traveled (2020)
Sources & Methodology
Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reflects the mileage accrued within the county and not necessarily the residents of that county; even though most trips are due to local residents, additional VMT can be accrued by through-trips. City data was thus discarded due to this limitation and the analysis only examines county and regional data, where through-trips are generally less common.
The metropolitan area comparison was performed by summing all of the urbanized areas for which the majority of its population falls within a given metropolitan area (9-county region for the San Francisco Bay Area and the primary metropolitan statistical area (MSA) for all others). For the metro analysis, no VMT data is available in rural areas; it is only available for intraregional analysis purposes. VMT per capita is calculated by dividing VMT by an estimate of the traveling population.
California Department of Transportation: California Public Road Data/Highway Performance Monitoring System
Federal Highway Administration: Highway Statistics
California Department of Finance: E-4 Historical Population Estimates for Cities, Counties, and the State
US Census Population and Housing Unit Estimates