Daily Travel Index: Weekly Briefing 5/7/20

Published on May 7, 2020 in General

American Consumers are Hitting the Road in Greater Numbers

The Power of May Flowers? Drive Market Activity Trends Accelerating Upward

Chart depicting trips U.S. resident made via car that were greater than 50 miles. There has been a 48.2% increase since April 3, 2020.

For a 5th straight week, drive market trends around the country moved upward; since the low point on April 3rd, the index value for all trips over 50 miles is up 48.2%. The increase in drive market activity is, as expected, primarily driven by short trips between 50-100 miles (which make up 69.3% of the trips we’ve observed during the past five weeks). Across all mileage bands, nearly all states have seen a week over week increase.

Going Up but a Long Way to Go

While the trends for consumer trips by car show a quickening pace upwards, volume is still well under normal May volume. Although index values show us back at–or even above–the baseline, it’s worth noting that what we want to look at is how the first Friday in May compared to Friday’s pre-Covid, specifically in February. A typical Friday in February recorded an index value of 50-60% above the baseline. We’re still a long way from that level of volume; the index value for all U.S. car trips over 50 miles only reached 5.5% below the baseline on Friday, May 1st. This means, relative to where consumer trip volume was five weeks ago, volume has only rebounded around 40-50% of February volume.

Caveats to Consider

Unfortunately the current Daily Travel Index values indicate overall drive market activity is an estimated 60-80% below the volume normally expected in May. Why so low? The month of May, for most places, is much busier than February (ski towns, perhaps not). As you reference the index in May, please keep in mind this important caveat…you’ll need to estimate the average difference in visitation between February and May. If there’s typically 35% more visitation (measured by occupancy, geo-location measured visits, etc.) in May than in February…that means you’d need to see index values closer to 100% over baseline in the DTI to realize ‘normal’ seasonal volume. It’s also worth noting that demand this month will be lower than normal, so that gap between February and May might not be as high as usual. Unfortunately, needing to add this bit of context to what the DTI is illustrating was a necessary trade-off that we had to make to have a data set that could update this frequently while maintaining statistical accuracy/validity.

Examining Drive Market Trends by Region

Regionally…the earlier hypothesis that the recovery would not occur at even pace around the country is proving to be true. Increases in drive market activity are happening across the board, but not at the same rates. The Northeastern U.S. (up 38.7% since 4/3) and the Western U.S. (up 35.2% since 4/3) have made more moderate progress compared to the other regions. The more moderate pace of recovery does not mean there haven’t been some extraordinary data points coming from these states. New York saw another large spike in activity between 50-100 miles out as weather there was again nearly perfect (the chart is attached to illustrate). The Midwest has regained the most activity, with a 58.7% increase since bottoming out in early April. The Southeast (up 45% since 4/3) and the Southwest (up 52% since 4/3) both recorded another week of strong upward momentum, despite widely different philosophies and timelines for reopening.

Regional Trend Charts

Regional Drive Market Activity Trends Chart - Southwest U.S. Seeing a 52% increase in trips greater than 50 Miles.
Regional Drive Market Activity Trends Chart - Western U.S.  35.2% increase in trips greater than 50 Miles since April 10.
Regional Drive Market Activity Trends Chart - Midwestern U.S.  58.7% increase in trips greater than 50 Miles since April 10.
Regional Drive Market Activity Trends Chart - Northeastern U.S. 38.7% increase in trips greater than 50 miles since April 10.
Regional Drive Market Activity Trends Chart - Southeastern U.S. 45% increase in trips greater than 50 miles since April 3.

Thank you for reading! Come back next week to for a full analysis of trip activity over Mother’s Day Weekend. Also, be sure to read our blog post “Malls in America: A Grand Reopening?” to learn if American consumers returned to the local mall as dozens reopened over the first weekend in May.

The Team at Arrivalist