European City Streets Stay Quiet Even as Some Lockdowns Ease

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Europe’s roads are still quieter than normal, despite efforts from some countries to ease lockdown measures used to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Even though anecdotal evidence and passenger numbers suggest that people are abandoning public transport in favor of private vehicles, delays to road journeys in major European capitals are still well below pre-pandemic levels, according to data from location technology specialists TomTom NV.

London and Berlin show very similar patterns of road congestion over the course of the pandemic. The first lockdowns, imposed almost a year ago, slashed journey times. Delays slowly crept higher over the following months and jumped when restrictions were eased in late summer.

European City Streets Stay Quiet Even as Some Lockdowns Ease

A second wave of lockdowns as winter arrived did little to reduce traffic levels, with many people continuing to travel to work and children remaining in schools. But that changed in January, with many children kept out of classrooms when the new term started.

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Things may be about to change, though. Primary school children returned to classrooms in many parts of Germany, including Berlin, in the last week of February and are all pupils are due to go back next week across the U.K. That will inevitably boost morning congestion, as concerned parents choose to drive their children to school.

European City Streets Stay Quiet Even as Some Lockdowns Ease

Paris and Rome haven’t imposed the same kinds of winter restrictions as Germany and the U.K. The French and Italian governments have opted for night-time curfews and some travel restrictions outside the cities. Importantly, most workplaces remain open, as do French schools.

European City Streets Stay Quiet Even as Some Lockdowns Ease

Madrid’s tough lockdown measures over the spring and early summer of 2020 took most of the city’s traffic off the streets, reducing delays to almost zero. An easing of restrictions in September saw delays return, but only to about half of their pre-pandemic duration. After a brief post-holiday traffic spike in early January, congestion dropped again in February. A nationwide curfew is set to remain in place until early May, though people can go out for work and education.

European City Streets Stay Quiet Even as Some Lockdowns Ease

Among the six European capitals monitored by Bloomberg, only Vienna is seeing traffic levels anywhere close to pre-pandemic levels. Congestion on city streets has risen sharply since the beginning of the year, returning to pre-pandemic levels in mid-February.

While European countries are each at different points on their own routes out of lockdowns imposed to combat the pandemic, it is clear that there is still a way to go before traffic in their major cities gets back to previous levels.

While city congestion tells us nothing about the volume of traffic on longer out-of-town journeys, those may be even more restricted by measures that, across most of the continent, prohibit leisure journeys.

The continent’s gasoline demand may still have a way to go before it recovers fully.

Note: The charts above show the percentage increase in journey times compared with empty roads at 8 am Wednesday. See here for more details.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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