Lockdown: Are traffic levels getting back to normal?

A really useful measure of how much things have returned to ‘normal’ is the amount of traffic on the roads. From mid-march to early-May the streets seemed virtually empty, but as time goes on it’s clear that things are changing.

Apple are publishing data that allows us to track activity associated with driving, transit and walking. This is based on the volume of direction requests – more info here.

I’m going to focus on driving activity – but let’s first have a look at the activity in Ireland.

Driving activity in Ireland

This chart is from Apple’s website – you can go in and do your own searches here.

To get a better understanding of what’s actually going on I think there are a couple of things that can be improved.

  1. Let’s smooth this out with a 7-day moving average
  2. Let’s adjust the base-line. Apple have used a single day (13th Jan) – I’m going to adjust this to the 1st week in March. (I’ll refer to this as ‘normal’ later on).

You can see here that driving had slowed by 78% in early April, and now the latest data (published today – 24th May) shows that this has crept back up – currently at around 58% below the baseline.

Northern Ireland is getting back to normal levels more quickly than the Republic. NI dropped a lot less than ROI to begin with (65% vs 78%), and has already returned to levels just 38% below normal.

Ireland & GB

Let’s put them both into one chart so we can compare NI & ROI directly, and we’ll add England, Scotland & Wales also.

Surprisingly, driving activity in NI had dropped the least when compared across Ireland & GB. However, even though driving in England had dropped further than NI, you can see that over the last week or so activity has risen quite sharply. This aligns with the UK government switching its key message for England from ‘Stay at home‘ to ‘Stay Alert‘. Whereas for every other area the key message has not changed.

International Comparison

Let’s have a look at a few countries around the world.

Sweden has actually returned to higher rates than normal – but worth noting that we set our baseline as 1-7th March and traffic levels are likely to see seasonal increases.

Germany and the US have also seen driving activity almost return to normal. Germany is just 9% below normal, and the US is 14% below normal.

The New ‘Normal’

We simply don’t know what’s going to happen – traffic may not return to ‘normal’ levels while the threat of the COVID-19 virus remains. However with some countries are almost back to previous levels already it looks like the streets won’t be quiet for long.

It may seem that the traffic stopped over-night, but even though it was a relatively steep drop, it still took around 4 weeks for the activity to reach its lowest level. The return to normal will take a lot longer.

At the current rate it will take several months to get back to normal – although there has been a steeper increase in the last few days.


Notes

– Apple had missing data on 11th & 12th May – I have used 13th as a replacement.

– This doesn’t take account of seasonality – driving is likely to be higher in the summer months.

– This is based on direction requests – it’s not clear therefore whether types of journeys will also affect this, i.e. longer journeys, unfamiliar destinations etc.