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Study: Early Months Of Pandemic Caused 80% Drop In Car Traffic Throughout Southern California

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Car traffic, public transportation and air travel in famously congested Southern California all slowed to a trickle because of the coronavirus outbreak, a new study found.

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06: An aerial view of light traffic before sunset on the I-110 and SR-101 freeways and Sunset Boulevard amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 6, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. More than 10,000 people have now died in the U.S. from COVID-19. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The Southern California Association of Governments says its study analyzed roadway, rail, and air traffic in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties during the early months of the pandemic. It's first snapshot found:

  • Vehicle-miles traveled fell by nearly 80% in April from January 2020. The sharpest declines happened in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.
  • Transit ridership started its decline in March, then fell sharply the following month – down 65% to 85% from the prior year. Bus ridership was down 72% in April, but Orange County saw the steepest decline at 80%. LA Metro reported a 68% drop in April, while Metrolink ridership dropped 90% in April and May from the year before.
  • Air travel was down 65% year-over-year in March and 95% in April.

"This snapshot provides valuable insight into how external factors can significantly impact our region's transportation habits,'' said Rex Richardson, SCAG president and a Long Beach city council member.

The outbreak's impact on freight traffic was mixed, however. The San Pedro Bay ports saw double-digit declines in containerized cargo due to the lockdown of China's economy, but Ontario International Airport experienced consistent 20%-plus increases in air cargo traffic as a result of a surge in online shopping.

The study did note that car traffic did pick up in April and is now nearing pre-pandemic levels.

"We don't know what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be, but the combination of fast-rising VMT and continued declines in transit ridership suggests that congestion and problems associated with it could return with a vengeance once the economy fully reopens,'' said Kome Ajise, SCAG's executive director.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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