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Survey: Boston commuters don’t want to return to their offices, and are more likely to drive if they do

The survey found that only 17% of commuters want to go to their offices every day.

Charles Krupa
Cars and trucks entering downtown Boston on the Zakim Bridge last summer. Charles Krupa

A study released Thursday from the local nonprofit A Better City (ABC) found that Boston commuters largely don’t want to return to the office, and a higher percentage of those who do return are more likely to drive than prior to the pandemic.

Scott Mullen, ABC’s transportation demand management director, called the pandemic a “forced experiment” that proved working remotely is possible. 

“People want flexibility,” Mullen told the Boston Business Journal.

And now that people know it’s possible, they largely do not want to travel to their offices on a daily basis.

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The survey found that only 17% of commuters want to go to their offices everyday, as compared to 69% who preferred commuting a few times a week or once a month to a few times a month. This is down from summer 2020, when the same question yielded 21% of commuters wanting to go back to their offices everyday, and 65% of them wanting to go in a few times a week or once a month to a few times a month. 

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ABC — an advocacy nonprofit that seeks to develop solutions that influence policy in transportation and infrastructure, land use and development, and energy and the environment — partnered with the City of Boston’s Transportation Department and The Energy Foundation to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed commute patterns and commuter choices.

Another trend ABC highlighted is the fact that among those who are commuting, more are doing so by car. Of spring 2022 survey respondents, 21% said they commuted by car before the pandemic and 26% said they would going forward. Of the 31% of respondents who primarily took the subway to work before COVID-19, only 27% plan to continue to do so. Commuter rail commuters similarly dropped, from 19% to 17%. 

ABC suggested that to increase public transportation ridership, commuters need to have incentives to use it, such as a free or reduced-cost MBTA pass, which 53% of respondents would be the most effective incentive for them.

When it comes to COVID, many more commuters say they’re more comfortable riding the T now than they were in 2020 when the pandemic started. Then, only 12% of behavior-changing commuters said they would be comfortable with riding the MBTA; that number is now up to 73%.

However, those numbers were collected before the MBTA was ordered by the Federal Transit Authority in June to address a series of safety directives. Two days after the MBTA told its board the authority was on track to meet those goals, an Orange Line train caught on fire while transporting passengers across a bridge.  

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“That 73%, that’s the faith that we’re going to lose” in the wake of the safety issues, Mullen told the Boston Business Journal.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has since suggested that we are at a point where the only solution may be lengthy shutdowns.

Regardless, the survey from ABC maintains that people’s favorite way to work is at least partially from home, even as we move into a stage of living with COVID-19 long term

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