Insights on post-pandemic mobility: the case of Spain

Total mobility impact

The understanding of future mobility is a subject of continuous questioning, as views adapt to new perspectives and outcomes driven by technological breakthroughs, new business models and regulations, as well as the pandemic trajectory. Therefore, the aim of this article is not to provide a definitive model of future mobility, but to give a global view of the recently observed recovery patterns and structural changes. Data was gathered and analyzed in November 2021 with conclusions drawn from the information available at that moment.

The latest mobility data provided by the Spanish Ministry of Transport available until April 2021 shows that around 10% of the mobility volumes observed in February 2020 were not yet recovered at that time. This dataset is based on mobile phone tracking data at a national scale, thereby covering all transport modes and all types of trips (different trip purposes, urban/inter-regional, etc.). Additionally, other non-official sources that track mobility demand as well, such as Google, let us estimate that the total mobility in late November 2021 is still 5% to 8% below early 2020 levels.

Figure 1. 7 days moving average of total Mobility in Spain compared to pre-covid levels
Source: Spanish Ministry of Transport, ALG Analysis

The transport demand fall observed implies an obvious reduction of daily trips per capita. While in the pre-pandemic scenario the data showed that practically 50% of the studied individuals took more than two trips per day, the average for April 2021 reached only 40%. The evolution of trips per capita shows a stabilization between March and April, indicating somehow how the mobility in the last months has been impacted by some new trends such as the reduction of work-related trips due to higher telework penetration, higher home entertainment demand implying lower leisure-related mobility, etc.

Figure 2. Evolution of daily trips per capita in Spain in base 1
Source: Spanish Ministry of Transport, ALG Analysis

As mentioned, one relevant driver of changes in the number of trips per capita is the increase of telework. This factor is of relevance as it will have a long-term impact on mobility and therefore, it will become of especial interest for future traffic and transport demand studies. The situation showed by the available data is probably not yet a solid base for future transport demand prognosis as it is still evolving.

In Spain, it is estimated that around 32% of the jobs are compatible with home-based work (according to the Bank of Spain) compared to the 7.5% telework penetration before the pandemic. The penetration during 2020 and 2021 has been changing as a consequence of different regulations and mobility restrictions leading to Q3 2021 with an estimated penetration at around 11% according to INE.

Additionally, the telework schemes to be implemented will play a key role on work-related mobility. The combination of number of days working at home and workplace will determine the resulting impact on mobility. In this context, it is worth mentioning that, even though the 3.5 percentage points increase in telework penetration in Q3 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic scenario might seem low, the share of individuals working at home more than 3 days per week has grown significantly more than occasional telework, thereby, implying a higher mobility reduction.

Furthermore, it is clear that the telework impact will have a different effect across geographies according to the future penetration and share of compatible jobs with telework as the following graph is showing. Urban areas with a higher share of services related jobs will potentially bear higher impacts.

Figure 3. Comparison of telework penetration and work-related mobility loss in November 2021 compared to 2019
Source: Google mobility reports, INE

The differential impact on each transport mode

Apart from the global impact on the total mobility, it is also important to analyze the differential recovery patterns of each transport mode. Generally speaking, the initial covid-19 impact on transport demand was widespread across all modes regardless of the trip purpose, urban or inter-urban scope, etc. However, the analysis of the most recent available data shows that the recovery of each transport mode is very different. This fact is having important implications on matters such as road congestion and safety or public transport user revenues streams, among others and, therefore, its evolution will play a key role on the performance of the transport and infrastructures sector.

In this context, we observe that the transport demand evolution during 2021 is driven by the recovery of private vehicle traffic and a significant loss of the public transport modal share. According to the total mobility evolution and the public transport demand data, public transport is far from recovering 2019 demand levels and below total mobility recovery. In fact, by analyzing the evolution of each type of collective transport demand, we observe that they behave similarly and in September 2021 they were still on average around 27% below the demand levels in February 2020.

Figure 4. Total mobility and collective transport demand evolution compared to Feb20 levels
Source: INE, Ministry of Transport, ALG Analysis

This fact, together with the private vehicle traffic increase observed in several inter-urban road assets and recent important congestion events in urban areas, is presenting us a future short-term modal split between public and private transport different from the pre-covid19 scenario. The moment when the situation will be reverted is unknown and will be very dependent on new restrictions and changes in users perception of these transport modes (crowding and its relationship with the likelihood of infection, alignment and suitability with trip purpose, etc.), as well as public regulations and incentives (private vehicle tolls, public transport stronger fare integration, limitations on parking and circulation for fossil fuel vehicles, etc.).

If we consider the available data, we observe that total mobility reached around 90% of February 2020 levels already in June 2020 and remained fairly stable between 80% and 92% until April 2021 when it started growing. By contrast, the collective transport did not reach such high levels in the summer of 2020 but it has been recovering faster (4.8% CAGR monthly between July 2020 and July 2021 compared to the total mobility 1.7% in the same period). Assuming this trends are maintained (big assumption), the pre-covid19 modal share will not be recovered until late 2022/early 2023, although this conclusion will require further analysis and constant data monitoring as it will depend on new potential regulations and restrictions and will vary across geographies.

Finally, focusing on private vehicle transport demand, it is worth mentioning the differences between the traffic trends of different types of private vehicles traffic. The results obtained from a benchmark of Iberian road assets shows that heavy traffic was significantly less impacted at the beginning of the pandemic and is currently recovering at a faster pace.

The rationale behind this differential evolution is not only the obvious impact of mobility restriction on passenger transport but also the changes in the logistic chain dynamics and mobility patterns. In this context, factors such as the growth of the e-commerce market (in Spain, online shopping transactions grew 20% in 2020 and is expected to continue growing in 2021) or changes in the warehouse stock management are playing a key role.

Figure 5. Comparative monthly traffic vs 2019 registered in selected Iberian road assets


The post-covid-19 transport demand scenario in Spain, despite being constantly changing, is showing a clear modification of some mobility dynamics. The recovery of previous levels of demand is driven by private vehicle traffic growth, which has increased at expenses of modal share from public transport at both urban and inter-urban levels.

The recovery of public transport modal share is not expected in the very short-term as it is still far from February 2020 levels, although it is recently growing at a faster pace than total mobility. This indicates that public transport modes can progressively recover the demand levels lost during 2020 and 2021, but the full recovery will still take some time and will depend on many factors, including permanent user behavior changes and public policy regulations and incentives.

Regarding private vehicle traffic, it is also interesting the different recent evolution of light and heavy vehicles. While the firsts were significantly impacted at the beginning and has been recovering up to reaching pre-covid19 levels recently, the latter were less impacted and recovered earlier.

In any case, the transport demand post-pandemic scenario that will eventually consolidate is still developing. The discussion provided preliminarily sheds light on the short terms perspectives but it will require more work and analysis of new data during the following months which will be really interesting in terms of evaluating the effect and drivers that will shape the post-pandemic mobility scenario.


About the authors
Lluís Colomés holds a BSc in Civil Engineering, MSc in Transport and is Senior Consultant at ALG.
Juan Rivera holds a MSc in Mathematics and a MBA and is a Senior Manager at ALG.

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