State of Travel in Massachusetts
From housing and the economy, to the environment and our health, transportation shapes more than just our movement.
The State of Travel summarizes multimodal trends across Massachusetts. The impact of our transportation system, including our cars, bikes, buses and trains, reaches beyond just our movement from point A to point B. The travel options available to us also impact the climate through emissions; the environment, by shaping overall patterns of new construction and development; and, our personal health, by allowing us to engage in more physical activity.
In Massachusetts, cars, SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks account for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, and only half of MA residents meet recommended weekly levels of physical activity. Developing safe, convenient alternatives to driving – through investment in walking, biking, transit, and denser Smart Growth development – can reduce emissions and improve public health by decreasing the miles traveled by car and increasing physical activity. As the pandemic continues to disrupt how and when we all travel, monitoring trends across modes can help us track our transportation goals and plan for a better transportation future.
Travel data for people in Massachusetts in FY21 (July 2020-June 2021) reflected our new pandemic patterns. Overall, we saw more biking and walking trips across the state, an increase in freight trips, a decrease in vehicle travel (which has since recovered to nearly pre-pandemic levels), and a decline in transit usage. One of the most important things the pandemic revealed is that essential travel is stable throughout the day. To support critical travel, we need to focus on all-day journeys (not just traditional commuting peaks). Across the US, on average, fewer than 20% of trips people make are commutes to work. The other 80% of trips people make are for other reasons entirely including running errands, shopping, playing, and visiting family and friends.
See below for more details on travel patterns across Massachusetts for FY21.
Biking and Walking
Biking in Massachusetts more than doubled across the state from FY20 to FY21, reflecting the pandemic-era “bike boom” seen around the country. The number of trips made each day by bike was, on average, 235% higher in FY21 than FY20. In Nantucket, which saw the most growth in biking, the number of bike trips taken on an average day jumped from 500 to 2000; in the metro Boston area, which traditionally sees the most bike use in the state, an average day in FY21 saw 130,000 more trips than in FY20.
Walking is part of everyday mobility. In FY21, people took more trips by foot, but they didn’t travel as many miles as in FY20.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continued to have significant impacts on transit agencies across the state in the 2021 fiscal year, primarily through steep declines in ridership from pre-pandemic levels, and associated revenue losses. However, while transit ridership at the end of FY21 was at similarly low levels as at the start of the year, the late summer and early fall did see increases in ridership, suggesting a willingness to return to transit post-pandemic.
Freight travel was steady throughout the pandemic until the spring; since then it’s been approximately 20% higher than pre-pandemic freight travel (this data does not include smaller delivery trucks used by Amazon, FedEx and UPS).
Total vehicle travel decreased significantly between FY20 and FY21 – FY21 travel was only 84% of the previous year. However, the trips taken were, on average, slightly further and slightly faster than pre-pandemic. In MA, 23% of commute trips have traditionally been made by workers driving alone to work; since March 2020, up to 44% of workers in MA may have been working remotely.
 Source: CDC BRFSS Prevalence and Trends Data