Virus Recovery Will Likely Lead To More Traffic Than Before: Data

Illustration for article titled Virus Recovery Will Likely Lead To More Traffic Than Before: Data
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Traffic may rise higher than pre-virus levels for awhile during recovery, GM has a diversity board now, and congress will re-litigate the Department of Justice’s automaker emissions antitrust probe this week. All that and more in The Morning Shift for Tuesday, June 23, 2020.


1st Gear: Societal Hiccup Coming

Bloomberg has a big data piece on the impact of Coronavirus on travel habits. Some of the numbers could point to how the world shapes itself post-virus, and all signs are pointing to a general spike in traffic, at least for a little while:

Driving is rebounding all over the world, and it could eventually return stronger than ever, depending on how long commuters remain wary of public transit. There are early signs of this in some Chinese cities, the first to confront the coronavirus and some of the first to reopen shuttered economies. For example, by mid-June, weekday morning rush hour traffic in Shenzhen had risen 18% over its levels from the same time in 2019, according to TomTom’s global traffic index. Vehicle sales are also creeping upwards across China, as has global demand for gasoline.

The data reflects a wariness of the health of public transportation, along with other complicated metrics like the unexpected rapid rebound of car sales and heavily incentive deals, will likely lead to that 18 percent spike in Shenzhen to spread around most of the world.

Of course this presents new opportunities, and many governments will heavily incentivize electrified vehicle sales or alternate forms of transportation, like increasing cycling lanes. But that may not be enough to curb an expected rise in emissions:

Yet the social and environmental consequences of a future with more vehicles on the road present another mortal risk: Already, transportation makes up 24% of global CO2 emissions, and traffic fatalities have already been rising in many parts of the globe.

The public demonization of public transit and its often ill-perceived health risk could put those reliable on public transit, who tend to be lower income, at risk of becoming the targets of enforcement of new social distancing rules. It’s already an issue:

Especially for people of color, the enforcement of new public health requirements on transit systems and other spaces presents an additional safety risk. For two weeks in March, Black people accounted for 35 of 40 NYPD arrests for breaking “social distancing” rules in Brooklyn. And a history of disproportionate and excessive policing of Black communities sheds a worrying light on other new safety rules.

“I am concerned with my safety when I have to don a mask to go outside,” said Charles Brown, a transportation researcher and professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, echoing an uneasiness that other Black Americans have expressed since the pandemic began.

Brown also cautioned that aggregate datasets, such as the ones reviewed in this article, “hide the true disparities that exist in our society, especially as it concerns low-income and minority communities” — in many cases the very same communities hit hardest by the virus itself. Indeed, on other transportation matters, there is very little data at all. This is particularly true for measuring informal transportation networks in developing countries, and for some minority groups such as Indigenous people, who are rarely well accounted for in academic or government analyses.


Meanwhile, in New York City, the majority of wealthier riders simply stopped riding the subway.

While all of this sounds likely enough, it’s important to note that car sales rebounded quicker than expected. The same could happen to public transit use, carpooling, ridesharing, and other emissions-reduction efforts, and everything could go back to normal sooner than expected. Or not. But it’s fun to see some numbers.


2nd Gear: GM Names Diversity Board

GM has named the members of its new Inclusion Advisory Board, which it has assembled following the recent wave of protests following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black and people of color by police officers. It now includes:

  • Dhivya Suryadevara, GM’s executive vice president and chief financial officer
  • Gerald Johnson, executive vice president, global manufacturing
  • Matt Tsien, GM executive vice president, chief technology officer since April 2020 and leader of GM’s operations in China
  • Kimberly J. Brycz, GM’s senior vice president, global human resources
  • Craig Buchholz, GM’s senior vice president of global communications
  • Tonya Allen, president and CEO, Skillman Foundation, and social justice advocate
  • Dennis Archer Jr., CEO, Ignition Media Group and president, Archer Corporate Services
  • Arden Hoffman, chief people officer, Cruise
  • Todd Ingersoll, president, Ingersoll Automotive of Danbury, and GM Minority Dealer Advisory Council member
  • Telva McGruder, Employee Resource Group at-large member, General Motors
  • Mark Reuss, GM president

It’s interesting that not all members of the board work within GM. The first board meeting will be in a month. Here’s what the board plans to do, in abstract, via The Detroit News:

Some of these principles include: believing “everyone has the responsibility to speak up in the presence of bias and injustice in our world,” not being silent and leveraging GM’s voice “to contribute to the dialogue condemning injustice and driving inclusion,” building relationships that “advocate for and achieve equality in social justice, education, health care, and economic opportunities for Blacks and other marginalized groups,” and ensuring “a more transparent workplace environment that is safe, respectful, free from fear and promotes and delivers real and measurable outcomes.”


That either means we’ll see a complete GM branding overhaul inside and out and they’ll actually make it a better workplace (as all companies should be reflecting on now), or this is just a vanity affair and it may only ever get mentioned in defense of the company should some issue of diversity arise.

I hope they’re serious.

3rd Gear: A Messy Wednesday Ahead

John Elias, a lawyer with the antitrust division within the U.S. Department of Justice, along with prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, are scheduled to testify in front of Congress tomorrow about the Trump administration’s attempts to interfere with the case against Trump-ally Roger Stone, who Zelinsky was a prosecutor on, as well as the “unprecedented politicization” of the Justice Department under Trump.


That last part could include new details about the Trump administration’s failed attempt to dissuade California and initially a few other states (later more) from continuing on with their own fuel-economy regulations in spite of Trump’s attempts to roll back progressive national Obama-era reforms, Automotive News points out:

Congress could revisit the controversy Wednesday when the House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on what the panel called the “unprecedented politicization” of the Justice Department under Trump. A lawyer with the Justice Department’s antitrust division, John Elias, is scheduled to testify at the hearing along with Aaron Zelinsky, who was a prosecutor in the Justice Department’s case against Trump associate Roger Stone. He withdrew from the case after Attorney General William Barr ordered prosecutors to reduce their sentencing recommendation.

It’s not clear what Elias will testify about.

He worked as chief of staff to the head of the antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, before taking a job in the division’s unit that prosecutes price-fixing and bid-rigging cases.


Should be interesting.

4th Gear: And Nevada Pours Fuel On The Fire

Speaking of that antitrust probe, Nevada just picked a great time to join California’s emissions team, via Auto News:

Nevada’s governor said on Monday his state plans to adopt California’s zero emission vehicle mandate and tailpipe emissions rules even as the Trump administration has moved to strip states of the right to implement such requirements.

Nevada will be the latest state to adopt California’s low-and zero-emission vehicle rules following similar announcements by Washington in March and Minnesota and New Mexico in September.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said the “new regulations will not require anyone to give up their current vehicle or choose one that does not work for their lifestyle or business needs.”

California’s vehicle emissions rules, which are more stringent than rules advocated by the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump, are currently followed by states accounting for more than 40 percent of U.S. vehicle sales.


Do greenhouse gases behave differently at such high altitudes?

5th Gear: Past The Low Point

Some analysts are starting to do unimaginably short-sighted things, like claim some markets are past the economic “low point” in this coronavirus shutdown slump. Way to jinx it, nerds.


From the Wall Street Journal:

In Europe, the PMI for the eurozone—a measure of activity in the manufacturing and services sectors—rose to 47.5 in June from 31.9 in May to reach its highest level since February, the month before lockdown in most of the continent.

“With the timing of a return to normal still something that can only be speculated upon, and virus-related restrictions likely to continue to hit many businesses for the rest of the year, we remain very cautious of the strength and sustainability of any economic rebound,” said Chris Williamson, IHS Markit’s chief business economist.


Some markets, like France and Australia, are showing signs of growth again, while others who took a softer approach and now require longer, more extensive shutdowns, or those simply opting for a very conservative reopening approach, are still struggling.

“We are now past the low point in economic activity,” said Gareth Aird, an economist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. ”The further decline in employment was disappointing. We should see head count lift from here.”

In the U.K., the world’s sixth largest economy, the manufacturing sector returned to growth, while the contraction in the services sector eased.

By contrast, Germany and Japan continued to see declines in activity, and in the latter the drop in manufacturing activity was sharper than in May. That continued weakness in the world’s third and fourth largest economies suggests the path back to the levels of output that were recorded before the pandemic will likely be long and bumpy.


As for auto manufacturing, Mexico suppliers have finally come back online so North American production can get back on track quickly, as American states begin to shift to more-relaxed virus restrictions, more people can go back to work, and more people start buying cars.

But in Europe, inventories are still high, and some companies are holding off a bit longer to sell the cars they already have. China has successfully managed some sort of rebound, with dealers being open and production resumed in most regions for over a month by now.


Reverse: Ah Yes, The Classic Billionaire Pedophile Lawsuit Involving Thai Children Trapped In A Cave, But Not As Bad As It Sounds


Neutral: The Subway Is Nice Right Now

Are you driving more? I have no qualms using public transportation or cycling right now, as the subways are the cleanest they’ve been since even before they left the factory and the roads are still fairly clear.


But it’s different if you live outside of a city, so I’m curious if you’ve changed your transport habits in any significant ways since all this started? Are you ever going back?

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik



This projected increase in traffic is predicated on the assumption that knowledge workers will return to the office.  At this point, that is not happening.  In fact, now that we have 4 months of largely successful remote working under our collective belts, it is increasingly unlikely that we will return to the same level of officing for knowledge workers.  Every company I know, except commercial real estate firms, has their people working remotely and has no short term plans to bring them back into the office.  So...none of those tens of millions of people are going to be commuting.