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How The Future of Travel Will Change In Palm Beach County


People in Palm Beach County are walking and cycling their way through the pandemic; they’re spending less time driving their cars, a pattern that may persist even as coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted.

Commuter travel is down between 25 to 40 percent from pre-coronavirus levels. Tri-Rail ridership is down 80 percent. But freight transport has been less affected, since home delivery of goods and services has picked up during the pandemic.

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Nick Uhren, executive director at the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency, says there might be possible pent-up demand for a different kind of travel. Uhren says people who’ve been working, virtual schooling, and parenting from their homes may see an incentive to “take advantage of that new, newly-regained freedom.”

The agency sent out a public survey last month, which closes June 15, to garner opinions on how likely those changes are to persist once the “new normal” becomes an everyday reality.

Here's an excerpt of that conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Wilkine Brutus: Do you expect travel to also slow down during the holiday season?

Nick Uhren: We've seen a radical decrease, especially in commuting travel. A lot of folks who are able to stay home, who are not required to go into their office to work an 8-to-5 job, are choosing not to do so right now. And so typically, when you look at travel patterns, you see a spike at the 8 a.m. hour of the day and a spike at the 5 p.m. hour of the day where roads are busiest. That spike has been all but eliminated in many of our major account locations.

So there's a reduction in overall travel throughout the day and there's a significant reduction in the commuter spike. Another thing that's caught my attention. We talk about the industries that are affected and the industries that are less affected. Freight mobility has been less affected by the move, by the pandemic.

If anything, people ordering virtually and expecting goods and services to be delivered to their home have increased the demand on our freight infrastructure and networking.

Are there silver linings that you can point to with this sort of travel disruption?

There are a lot of people who are driving less right now, and it gives you an opportunity to use that time in different ways, whether it's spending time at home with your family, whether it's being out in a more active way, experiencing the road network in your local community as a pedestrian or as a bicyclist. I'm told that bike shops are all on back order.

Right now, there's been a surge in the purchase of bicycles and the bicycle activity level throughout our communities has skyrocketed during this pandemic time because people are out taking advantage of the time that they're not driving.

And so if you're fortunate enough to be able to work remotely, and to be able to retain your income levels, but you suddenly have the opportunity to use the time of your week a little differently — I think some folks have really benefited from and appreciated those freedoms.

How you can reach them: Go here for more info on the travel impact survey due June 15.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.