A gift from COVID: No crowds on freeways or mass transit

26December 2020

A gift from COVID: No crowds on freeways or mass transit

To see one benefit of COVID, look through your windshield.

The virus that hit Minnesota in early 2020 has led to the deaths of more than 5,000, closed many small businesses, cost many their jobs and restricted the way we gather and live since.

The pandemic has also slashed all forms of vehicular traffic — cars, buses and light rail. It has made driving easier in the metro area — and might continue to do so in the future, as commuters learn to work at home and avoid driving.

The Metropolitan Council reported that traffic on freeways fell by 45 percent after the March COVID stay-at-home order. It has since rebounded, but is still about 7 percent below normal, as of Dec. 13.

COVID has eased traffic even more in non-metro Minnesota. There, traffic remains 25 percent less than last year’s levels.

A Metro Transit bus uses the marquee to advise Minnesotans to stay home as it travels on the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Thanks to COVID, buses and trains are even less crowded.

Bus ridership was down 63 percent for the week of Dec. 6, Metro Transit reported.

Ridership of the Blue Line, the light rail between Minneapolis and the Mall of America, was down 70 percent. The Green Line, from downtown St. Paul to Minneapolis, dropped 63 percent.

Worst of all was the Northstar Line, which is limping along with only 4 percent of the riders it had last year. Northstar connects downtown Minneapolis with the St. Cloud area.

And the COVID effect on traffic might persist, long after the virus is eradicated. A report Global Workplace Analytics predicted that more than 25 percent of the workforce would be working at home “multiple days a week” by the end of next year.

The same website said the working-from-home trend will not go away. About 80 percent of workers want to work from home, at least some of the time — yet only 4 percent work at home half-time or more.

That’s because many workers have already adapted to the virus with home offices — and might prefer to work at home, permanently.

Likewise, shoppers during the pandemic have turned to home-delivery services, such as Amazon — and may not rush back to brick-and-mortar stores, even when they can.


COVID-19 took a lot from Minnesotans: their fun, their livelihoods and, for 5,000, their very lives. As we surveyed the wreckage of 2020, we also saw the silver linings that came out of the pandemic for this daily series of stories. For other articles, go to twincities.com/tag/coronavirus.

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