Traffic eases on San Francisco bridges as technicians log in from home

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The San Francisco Bay Area’s army of tech workers responded to requests to do their jobs from home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, easing traffic on local bridges for commuters who still had to drive to work.

A person wearing a face mask waits on an uncrowded train platform during the morning rush hour in Oakland, California, U.S., March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Saphir

Some of the region’s biggest companies, including Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc, have asked employees to work from home as more and more people fall ill.

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Rush-hour traffic on the Dumbarton Bridge, which connects suburban East Bay towns to Silicon Valley, was down 18% on Monday from the previous week, according to Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Bay Area data. Toll Authority.

The morning commute over the San Mateo Bridge was 8%. And on the San Francisco Bay Bridge, use of the carpool lane – reserved for vehicles of three or more people – fell 12%.

Lighter than usual travel has sometimes been symptomatic of an economic downturn. Such was the case during the 2008 financial crisis, when there was a 12% drop in the number of hours Bay Area commuters spent stuck in traffic, according to a Caltrans study.

But although some economists worry that the coronavirus could indeed trigger a global recession, the suddenly reduced traffic in the Bay Area probably does not signal a reduction in economic activity, at least not yet.

“Here it could be caused by a self-imposed change in work patterns,” said Alexandre Bayen, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley Institute for Transportation Studies.

As the virus has spread globally, some governments like Italy have followed the plan of China, where the virus emerged, restricting the movements of millions of people to curb its spread.

In the United States, the situation developed differently. Companies like Airbnb, Salesforce, Google and social media giants Facebook and Twitter have in recent days begun encouraging employees in cities with rising case numbers to log in from home if possible.

Public health officials say limiting time spent in large groups can combat the spread of the disease.

Although many workers cannot do their jobs remotely, data from the Bay Area’s toll bridges is among the first to show the substantial impact of US work-from-home guidelines.

Ridership on the Bay Area’s rail system, BART, is also down, local media reported.

Worldwide, there are now over 110,000 cases of COVID19, including over 1,000 in the United States. As of Tuesday evening, at least 90 people in the Bay Area have tested positive.

Overall traffic on the Bay Bridge has not decreased, but use of the carpool lane has. This may reflect a drop in the number of commuters using popular “casual carpooling” arrangements, where drivers pick up passengers at designated locations in order to take advantage of the faster and cheaper carpool lane.

Data from toll bridges suggests commuters are doing it less frequently now, “potentially out of fear or because many Bay Area businesses have allowed remote work,” Bayen said.

Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by David Gregorio

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