COVID-19’s Impact on the Transportation and Energy Consumption Sector

Highway 101 during pandemic

Traffic on Highway 101 decreased dramatically during the pandemic. Credit: Don Nolte

Many state and regional economies had to shut down beginning in February and March of 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the Institute for Regional Studies in Silicon Valley, annual GHG emissions in Silicon Valley could decline by an estimated 8 to 21 percent year-over-year, based on measured declines in vehicle miles traveled in March and April. Similarly, global GHG emissions are expected to decrease by 4 to 8 percent this year due to the pandemic. One major factor making the regional estimate higher is Silicon Valley’s relatively clean electricity and a greater dependence of total emissions on the transportation sector.[1] Other notable impacts on the transportation sector include:

  • SamTrans (San Mateo County’s bus system) saw a drop in ridership of 65 to 70 percent on most routes, resulting in reduced services to 31 routes due to low demand.[2]
  • California transit agencies are expected to lose $2 billion in fare revenue and operational expenses, leading to trickle-down effects economically as transit agencies furlough employees and defer payments to contractors. However, transit agencies are expected to receive about $4 billion in stimulus funding.[3]

Work from Home/Telecommuting

As the global pandemic continues, telecommuting has become an increasingly attractive option for companies. Due to a combination of benefits (decreased transportation emissions, rent savings and increased workforce productivity), the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted on June 30 to encourage all employers in the county to offer employees the option to work from home and telecommute when feasible.[4] Technology companies in the Bay Area (e.g., Google, Twitter, Facebook) were among the first to embrace a fully remote workforce, and other businesses have been following suit. In addition, San Mateo County has offered $1 million in grants to small businesses adversely impacted by COVID-19.[5]

County’s and Cities’ Response to COVID-19

On April 27, 2020, the Redwood City Council authorized a temporary pilot program to encourage reduced driving on a few streets while the shelter-in-place order (due to COVID-19) was in effect. The intent of the Slow Streets program is to allow residents to more safely walk, roll and bike with members of their households on already low-traffic streets and to promote physical distancing of at least 6 feet by creating new low-traffic, low-speed streets. In total, there are approximately 5.5 miles of temporary soft closure (3 percent of total streets in the city). To view a printable map, click here. Other cities that have closed streets to traffic to allow for safe walking, biking and dining include San Mateo, Foster City and Burlingame. For image credit, click here.

California Clean Transportation Program

The Clean Transportation Program is a $100 million fund that plays an important role in achieving California’s ambitious goals regarding mitigating climate change, improving  air quality, reducing petroleum consumption and adopting zero-emission vehicles.[6] The fund is used to develop and deploy advanced transportation and fuel technologies and will run through January 2024.

Spare The Air

The San Mateo County Transit District is rolling out a fleet of all-electric buses. Credit: SMCTD

Spare the Air focuses on educating and helping residents choose actions that will improve air quality and make the Bay Area a healthier, more enjoyable place to live. The organization’s commute tips offer suggestions on how to help improve air quality in the Bay Area. Spare the Air also provides a list of tips and incentives that are offered for various forms of transportation in the Bay Area. Click here to know more.

Clean Bus Company

Proterra, based in Burlingame, is a leader in the design and manufacture of zero-emission electric transit vehicles, and it also offers electric vehicle technology solutions for heavy-duty applications. As major cities are converting to 100% electric fleets, Proterra vehicles have become one of the most popular electric buses on the road in North America. Proterra has sold more than 950 electric buses to 100 communities across 43 U.S. states and Canadian provinces.[7]

Social Equity in Transportation

The Transportation Equity Allied Movement Coalition (TEAMC) is a coalition of about 30 organizations working to advance transportation solutions that promote social equity, public health and safety, and environmental protection in San Mateo County. People from low-income communities are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing clean forms of transportation. TEAMC brings together diverse voices to advance community-supported transportation solutions that provide greater access to opportunity. In 2018 TEAMC launched a massive campaign to ensure that SamTrans would prioritize community needs in its next expenditure plan. That plan will guide how $80 million in tax revenues are spent every year, helping to shape the future of transportation in the county.

Car-Share Programs in San Mateo County

San Mateo County offers a variety of ride-sharing programs for residents and commuters. These include carpool discounts through Scoop, San Mateo’s ride-share app, which lets people book carpool rides based on where they are going and presently has 40,000 subscribers.[8] The county offers another carpool incentive through (San Mateo County’s agency for transportation demand management), under which a person who carpools for 10 trips receives a $25 gift card.  Carpools logged in San Mateo County as part of that program more than quadrupled from 6,400 in September 2018 to well over 27,000 in April 2019.[9]

Guaranteed Ride Home Program’s Guaranteed Ride Home Program (GRH)  reimburses people who commute to a workplace in San Mateo County or students who commute to a participating college in San Mateo County for the cost of their ride home in the event they have an emergency. Commuters can use any form of transportation to get home, such as public transit, a  ride-hailing app like Uber or Lyft, car sharing or a taxi, and they will be reimbursed up to $60 per trip (excluding gratuities) up to four times a year. Commuters using public transit for their GRH ride will receive a $5 e-Card bonus from

Mobility and Access for Pedestrians, Cyclists, and Public Transit Users

Complete Streets

In California, all cities and counties are required to include Complete Streets as a part of their circulation plan. Complete Streets are designed and constructed to serve all users of streets, roads, and highways, regardless of their age or ability, or whether they are driving, walking, bicycling, or taking transit. To learn more, click here.

Hybrid/electric cars and charging infrastructure in SMC, discount on electric vehicles 

EV charging stations in San Mateo County

Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE) offers various incentives for electric vehicle purchases in San Mateo County. These range from rebates for low-income households looking to purchase used electric cars (up to $10,000 in value) to providing $24 million in funding for EV charger installations in workplaces, multi-unit dwellings, colleges, public parking garages/lots and other public locations. Click here for details. In September 2020 California Governor Newsom signed an executive order that bans the sale of new gas-powered passenger cars in California starting in 2035.

Highway 101’s lane for cleaner cars

Due to large amounts of traffic congestion and fuel-efficiency considerations, drivers of certain plug-in hybrid, alternative fuel and clean-air vehicles (with a white or green decal issues by the Department of Motor Vehicles) can freely use High Occupancy Vehicle lanes without having to meet the requirement of two or more passengers. The U.S. 101 Express Lanes Project, scheduled for completion in 2022, will convert the fast lane into a toll lane that will allow buses and carpools with three or more passengers to travel free of charge, and charge vehicles with two passengers less than those with one passenger. The auxiliary (outside) lanes will be changed to through-lanes.[11]






[5] COVID-19-14