Coronavirus and mobility — now, and future implications

The past few weeks have been unprecedented for our nation, and our beloved Triangle area.

With the entire core Triangle region about to be under a stay-at-home order by this Friday evening, we will all continue to have a lot less travel on our roads, streets, public transportation systems, and so on.

The short-term mobility impacts of the coronavirus on our region have been, and will continue to be, mixed.

Lower travel has certainly meant less traffic congestion, and improved air quality.

Reduced traffic has also made it easier for some construction projects:  NCDOT and their contractors have been able to take advantage of reduced traffic impacts by accelerating or expanding some of the road work on projects including the widening of I-40 in eastern Wake County.

Fewer travel demands also means lower fuel prices, which is good for workers. However, it also means lower fuel tax revenues over time, which is not so good for the roads that workers will travel on.

In addition, fewer people working means fewer people are taking public transit — and our area transit agencies have significantly and understandably reduced bus route frequency as a result. They have also suspended fare collection and have activated rear door entry to help protect drivers.

And of course, the American commercial aviation system has been almost completely decimated, at least in the short-run, with a nearly incomprehensible reduction in flight demands.

It is not clear how long this situation will — or can — continue.

However, while we do not know the duration of the immediate coronavirus impacts, we can already get some idea of what the future may hold for mobility for our market.

Looking ahead, my sense is that the telecommuting and videoconferencing that many of us our increasingly engaged in out of necessity will become far more prevalent in a post-pandemic America. Some discretionary travel, whether we are talking Durham to Raleigh, or RDU to NYC, will simply not happen anymore. The costs, however defined, will no longer be worth it, at least for some trips.

Other trips will still occur, but in different ways than before. To put it simply — social distancing is not going to be merely a spring 2020 coronavirus practice. My sense is that the need or desire for social distancing could impact the interior of many of the vehicles that are not privately-owned and exclusively privately-used in this country — buses, trains, vanpools, ridesharing, planes. Those impacts may be both how they look inside in terms of seating arrangements, and the numbers of people in those vehicles.

These potential decisions and changes may fundamentally impact not only the demands on the surface and air transportation systems, including public transit, but also the financial underpinnings of those systems.

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

The above having been said…  there will still be plenty of people that will need travel on our roads and skies, and in a growing market like ours those demands will continue to increase. To that point, while the regional business community is focused on getting through the coronavirus situation, we are also still preparing for the future of our growing R&D Triangle region through the Regional Transportation Alliance.

In the coming weeks and months we will be speaking of the progress of our Freeway And Street-based Transit network study, as well as needed improvements to I-40 and other routes, including options for how to fund them.

Our hope is that, working together, Americans will be able to “flatten the curve” to limit the impact on our health care community and the health of our people — without flatlining the economy. No matter how short or long it takes, we will all get through it, the region will continue to grow, and the RTA will continue to provide regional business leadership.

Let’s get moving,


Joe Milazzo II, PE
Executive Director
Regional Transportation Alliance


RTA is the voice of the regional business community on transportation

Gold members

Thank you to our Omnia Gold, Sustaining Gold, and Gold members

Omnia Gold