Despite the overwhelming decrease in the number of infections throughout New Jersey, COVID continues to be an issue or perhaps the excuse, for many New Jerseyans opting to continue working from home.
That stark reality has many economists, city planners and political pundits concerned; attempting to predict whether mass transit travel will rebound at or above pre-COVID levels or remain depressed for years to come, only time will tell.
The lure of working remotely from home is no doubt an appealing concept for many New Jersey workers. Moreover, the reluctance of going back to work isn’t confined only to the Garden State. A recent survey conducted by Partnership for New York City in May found that nearly 63% of Manhattan office workers were either not working or working remotely.
To make matters even more challenging for planners, a recent poll conducted by Regional Plan Association (RPA)/Global Strategy Group found 82% of respondents supported the multi-billion dollar long-planned Gateway Program (formerly the Gateway Project) linking the Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail line between Newark, New Jersey and New York City, while just 8% oppose its construction.
Although the poll revealed overwhelming support for the project, the fact that transit ridership still remains low more than two years into the pandemic remains an issue that requires further scrutiny.
Future Mass Transit Growth
To address these concern, RPA examined multiple scenarios for how travel demand could impact workers using different methodologies regarding how many and how often people will continue to work from home and how much the region’s economy will grow in the future.
According to documents just compiled by TripsHistoric data, RPA calculates that once the Hudson Tunnel Project (a vital component to the Gateway Program), is completed by 2050, daily commuter trips will increase by 15% to 32% above pre-pandemic rates.
Further examination by RPA, predicts likely scenarios that may impact mass transit travel in the future, assuming that the amount of time an employee works at home would most likely double from pre-COVID levels of 5% to 10%, and perhaps even quadruple to 20%. For office workers, the percentages would be considerably higher, somewhere within the 25% to 50% range.
Several scenario’s advanced by RPA, would take into account different economic growth patterns. For example, within the tri-state metropolitan region, RPA concludes long-term job and population growth would mirror on average, the rate of growth from 1989 to 2019. However, based on those projections RPA further concludes the actual long-term job and population growth rate would in all probability be half the amount.
Using those projections as a baseline for work trips and non-work trips for both mass transit and auto travel, RPA has developed several “travel models.”
However, because of the size, scope and complexity of such a massive infrastructure project like the Gateway Program, projections were made for 10-year intervals for the next 50 years.
Need for Gateway
Moreover, the farther projections extend into the future the more speculative they become. Add to that a catastrophic event such as a lethal worldwide pandemic, and any attempt to predict future labor migration patterns within the Garden State becomes at best a guessing game.
Although no one can predict the future regarding work from home versus back to work issue and how mass transit will impact New Jersey’s labor market. One thing seems evident; the Gateway Project would provide in the short term over 72,000 well-paying jobs and roughly $20 billion dollars of economic activity to the region, along with modernizing the entire Northeast Corridor (NEC), which if RPA’s forecasts prove true, could directly impact the current trend of working from home.
Before COVID, the Northeast Corridor served over 2,000 trains per day, and over 800,000 daily commuters between Washington DC and Boston. The corridor serves eight-states, which accounts for over 20% of our nation’s economy and 17% of its population.