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Daily Miles Traveled

How far do Bay Area residents drive each day?

How far do people travel when they get behind the wheel? This varies from driver to driver, of course, but monitoring the total number of miles driven and comparing that to the Bay Area’s population gives a good sense of driving trends in the region. While vehicle miles traveled (VMT) grew rapidly over the 20th century, more recent data indicate relative stabilization both in the region and across the country. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding shift to remote work could be shifting these previously stable trends.

Updated: August 2022

180Mmiles

were driven by Bay Area residents each weekday in 2019, the highest year on record

142Mmiles

were driven by Bay Area residents each weekday in 2020

18miles per day

The typical Bay Area resident drove 18 miles per day in 2020

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Regional Performance

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.

-21%

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

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National Context

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)

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Sources & Methodology

Methodology Notes

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.

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The Vital Signs initiative is led by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

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