2020 Household Survey: COVID-19 Trends

The Met Council tapped into a panel of participants from the 2019 household travel survey to study the short and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These follow-up surveys are helping explain how COVID-19 has changed and is changing regional travel behavior by comparing current behaviors to participants’ behavior in 2018-2019.

These surveys, conducted in May, August and October, were sent to people who had completed the 2019 household survey, provided an email address and had agreed to being contacted for future research.

  • There were 8,800 adults eligible
  • The first wave spring 2020 survey had about a 37% response rate, or 3,244 responses
  • The respondents were only 9% non-white, which did not reflect a representative sample
  • Individual responses were weighted to match the regional population (race, age, income, household size)

Survey distribution and focus

The Met Council began tracking travel behavior in March 2020 by analyzing over 1,000 freeway traffic monitoring stations, showing how travel decreased steadily in the days following the first COVID-19 case in Minnesota.

The first COVID-19 survey rolled out as the stay at home order was lifting in early May. Subsequent surveys deployed to the same group of people in late summer as traffic volumes rebounded and a final one in late fall.

Histogram of percentage difference from typical traffic from March 8 through November 29, 2020. Two lines fall sharply at the beginning and then climbs slowly.

The surveys covered a wide array of trip purposes, topics related to COVID-19, and other travel choices. All responses can be linked back to 2019 household survey results.

Sample trip purposes

  • Work: Employment status, telecommuting, transportation to work
  • Maintenance: Grocery visits, online shopping, delivery services, telehealth
  • Recreation: Use of trails and newly widened paths

Sample topics

  • COVID-19 health risks perceptions
  • Attitudes toward new or proposed COVID-19 policies for transit and air travel
  • Likelihood of car and bike purchases

Changes due to the pandemic

The survey responses showed how the respondents’ commutes have changed after the pandemic took hold in March of 2020, and the responses generally stayed consistent over time. Results from the May survey showed across all incomes:

  • Workers who used to use public transit are primarily teleworking (58%), driving (12%), or unemployed (16%). Only 11% continue to take transit to work.
  • Workers who used to drive to work are teleworking (48%), or still driving to work (39%), with a smaller share who are unemployed or furloughed (13%).
  • Workers who used to telework continue to do so (91%), with some now driving to work (7%) and very few unemployed (2%).
  • Workers who used to bike or walk to work are most likely teleworking (62% and 31% respectively).

Travel impacts based on income

People in households earning more than $50,000: Before the pandemic 83% drove to work, 6% took transit, 5% were teleworking, and about 2% were unemployed. After the outbreak this shifted. The May survey shows about 33% of these people drove to work, 54% were teleworking and 10% were unemployed. Those who teleworked before the pandemic continued to work from home.

People in households earning less than $50,000: Before the pandemic 64% drove to work; 10% took transit, 5% teleworked, and about 6% were unemployed. In May 2020, commute travel looked very different:  36% drove to work, 24% teleworked, and people who were unemployed jumped to 34%. The survey data reflects that there was a disproportionate impact on unemployment for lower income workers.

Graphic representation of the work commute data listed in text above.

Working from home

Before the pandemic, roughly half the people said they never worked remotely. In May 2020, we see a huge shift where people who have never teleworked before moved to teleworking all the time. These people were also very likely to say that they wanted to continue teleworking into the future. The vast majority saying that they wanted to telework two or more days a week. This remained steady over time.

Online shopping and home delivery

The analysis looked at participants current behavior and then looked back at the recorded behavior from the 2019 survey data to see how that behavior has changed. Over the course of a week, data showed growth in people getting delivery of non-food items, take out and groceries, as well as those shopping online.

The increase in food delivery was especially prevalent in adults who have a disability, even though a small fraction of respondents. Only 3% of his group used to have food (groceries, take-out) delivered one or two days per week; now, that number is 19%.

Outdoor recreation

Overall, we observed significantly increased rates of outdoor exercise/recreation. This impact was visible as some streets were closed to car traffic and opened for biking, walking and rolling. In the May data, we saw that 11% of adults had recently used streets that had temporarily restricted vehicle traffic.

In addition, 45% of respondents said they had recently used a park or trail for recreation or exercise. Of those who had recently used a park or trail, 40% said they drove to a park or trail at least once in the past week.

Survey topics and data

These are a few highlights found in the COVID-19 survey follow up to the 2019 Travel Behavior Inventory survey. The full list of topics covered in survey are listed below.

The full data set is available on the Minnesota Geospatial Commons.

  • Exercise frequency and location
  • Use of streets that have temporarily restricted vehicle traffic for social distancing
  • Access to parks and trails: driving to reach parks and trails for exercise/recreation
  • Bicycle frequency, trip purpose, bike share
  • Grocery shopping type: in-store, delivery, pick-up
  • Grocery shopping frequency
  • Online shopping frequency
  • All modes used last week
  • All trip purposes for last week
  • Travel to medical visits (and telehealth)
  • Transit replacement modes
  • Likelihood of purchasing a car, bike, scooter, bike share or transit pass in next six months
  • Barriers to transportation
  • Attitudes towards public health policies in air travel
  • Attitudes towards public health policies on transit
  • Demographics - change in residence, disability status, income, age, gender, race
  • Size of household
  • Employment status before and now
  • Teleworking rates and preferences
  • Perception of COVID-19 risks
  • Job type


Jonathan Ehrlich
[email protected]