EIE’s 2022 transportation data release reveals a need for public transit solutions and low-emission zones

Google Earth
Google Earth and Earth Engine
9 min readMay 16, 2023

By Akshay Sriprasad, Product Manager, Christopher Bian, Sr. Software Engineer, & Janny Zhang, Software Engineer

We are excited to announce that the Google Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE) team has just released 2022 Transportation Emissions data for thousands of cities and regions. Now, many local governments across the globe have a fifth year of mobility data — from 2018 to 2022 — to track year-over-year trends in emissions, changes in transportation mode splits, and their progress toward empowering sustainability initiatives within their communities.

As part of this release, the EIE team has also expanded our reach worldwide. Notably, cities and regions in Africa and Asia make up the largest share of new Transportation Emissions data, with new data being provided to over 1,200 more areas across both continents, compared to our previous 2021 Transportation Emissions data release.

Additionally, EIE’s 2022 Transportation Emissions also includes more mode data per city or region, compared to 2021. Now, 22% of all regions in EIE with Transportation Emissions data include 2022 mobility data for at least one additional mode of transportation: bus, train, bicycle, and more. This means that more cities can explore aggregated trips taken within 2022, categorized by transportation mode, to learn more about their city or region’s transportation trends.

Google’s EIE data has been helpful for understanding transportation trends over the last several years, including recent impacts to travel from Covid-19. This data has been helpful, as we continue to prioritize and implement emission reduction strategies in our community.

– Heather Dimke, Management Analyst; City of Salem, Oregon

Analysis of our data reveals key mobility shifts in 2022, compared to pre-pandemic

Based on a comparison of EIE’s 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2022 Transportation Emissions data across continents, we have identified several key trends:

  • On average, global public transport trips have not returned to 2019 levels, while private vehicle trips are on the rise.
  • Private vehicle trips have increased due to pandemic-related aftereffects, which helped enable an increase in remote work, relocation away from megacities, and increased tourism.
  • Some regions that saw decreases in public transit activity have implemented public transit-related programs to help increase ridership and are tracking progress through EIE.
  • Global cycling trips have notably increased compared to 2019, due to the pandemic.

Private vehicle trips are on the rise, compared to public transit

Figure 1: Histogram showing the breakdown of distance traveled by trip type across all continents. “Private Vehicles” refers to car and motorcycle trips; “Public Transit” refers to bus, subway, ferry, train, and tram trips; and “Self-Powered” refers to cycling and walking trips.

When aggregating trips from all regions with EIE data, we see that global public transit trip distances decreased significantly, and private vehicle trip distances are similar in 2022 compared to 2019. The distribution of relative changes, shown in Figure 1, indicates that while private vehicle and self-powered mobility activity has generally returned to 2019 levels, public transit activity has not.

Pandemic aftereffects impact public transit trip recovery

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, public transit use decreased considerably. According to EIE data, the distance traveled by public transportation in 2022 has decreased by about 16% globally compared to 2019. And in regions where public transportation is a staple, like San Francisco County, there was an 11% decrease in public transportation trips between 2019 and 2021, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).¹ Decreases in ridership led to reduced train service during the pandemic, and many public transportation agencies have not returned to 2019 service levels.

Moreover, people are still recovering from social distancing and feel hesitant about traveling in enclosed spaces.² As local governments continue to explore transit incentives, such as through free or reduced fares,³ increasing service availability and providing social distancing measures can help ease passengers back into using public transportation.

Post-pandemic company policies may have influenced the shift towards private vehicle trips

Pandemic-related changes in workplace policy have enabled more employees to work remotely.⁴ Local policies in some regions, like the United Kingdom,⁵ have made it even easier for employees to work remotely or on a hybrid schedule, starting from their first day of work.

The hybrid work week — which typically includes working from home for part of the week — has implications for transportation behavior. As more companies are shifting towards a permanent form of the hybrid work week,⁶ this directly affects the amount of travel during the week, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Some believe that working from home could be a solution to the adverse impacts of private vehicle transportation systems. During city-wide shutdowns in 2020, when remote work was at its peak, some city planners recognized that there was less of a need for multi-lane roads and converted some lanes to bike or pedestrian-only lanes, as the US state of Washington did temporarily in 2020.⁷

However, as the world is recovering from the effects of the pandemic, research indicates that remote workers took more trips and traveled longer distances per day in 2022.⁸ Although remote work has many benefits for employees,⁹ cities may want to continue investing in sustainable transportation options for residents to help with their current emission mitigation efforts. By leveraging EIE’s Transportation Emissions data, cities can evaluate different transportation scenarios and implement sustainability policies that work best for their communities.

Private vehicle trips increased, alongside relocation and tourism

Global megacities, like New York City¹⁰ and London,¹¹ saw a decrease in population during the pandemic as people moved out of bustling downtown areas and into less dense, more spread out neighborhoods. Within the United States, citizens moved outside of state lines at a higher rate during the pandemic than in the years prior.¹² As of 2022, many citizens have not moved back to large cities.¹³

As a result, people who previously used public transportation within city centers transitioned to using private vehicles. The subsequent lower ridership required that transit agencies reevaluate their finances. For example, in Tokyo, Japan, a large exodus of citizens contributed to the city’s first subway fare increase in 28 years.¹⁴ This was reflected in EIE data: Tokyo’s total subway trips decreased by 42% between 2019 and 2022.

Additionally, tourism bounced back in 2022,¹⁵ causing a surge in tourism activities that also contributed to increased transportation trips. Popular tourist spots and getaway locations, such as Giza Governate, Egypt,¹⁶ and Kauai County, Hawaii,¹⁷ have seen upticks in transportation trips. In more car-dependent cities, this may translate to increased rideshare trips, while cities with extensive public transit infrastructure may see increased ridership on buses and trains.

Although tourism may be seasonal, investing in sustainable transportation options can benefit a city year-round.¹⁸ For example, because tourists often contribute significantly to public transportation revenue, making transit more attractive to tourists ensures that residents can enjoy these benefits, too.¹⁹ Additionally, cities may want to consider creating more low-emissions zones in their communities, which support mode shifts away from private vehicles and reduce emissions overall.²⁰ EIE’s multi-year mode data can help cities measure and track the lasting impacts of their public transportation investments and other sustainability initiatives.

“The City of Hamburg has developed a strategy to encourage people to leave their car at home to reduce transport-related emissions, and Environmental Insights Explorer has helped us measure the success of these programs: In 2022, usage of public transport (subway, trains, bus) grew in terms of number of trips, while passenger car traffic’s share decreased. We are also happy to see that the share of total trips by foot and bicycle grew year-over-year, though we still see a lot of upward potential here.”

– Dr. Tina Wagner, Head of Division Transport Development, City of Hamburg (Germany)

Some European and Asian governments are emphasizing increased public transportation use

According to EIE data, Europe has also seen a decline in public transportation trip distances. And in response, some European countries have prioritized increasing public transportation trips in 2022. In France and Germany, government initiatives — including reduced fares and banning air travel over 2.5 hours²¹ — encouraged people to use public transit again.

Figure 2: European private vehicle and self-powered trip distances rose in 2022, while public transportation trips in 2022 were lower compared to 2019 levels.
Figure 3: In Asia, distances traveled by private vehicles are approaching 2019 levels, but still vary significantly by region. Travel via public transit and self-powered modes are lower in 2022, compared to 2019.

While public transit trips are down in Asia overall, some cities are starting to see the continued benefit of investing in public transportation. Located in West Asia, Doha, Qatar developed an extensive public transit system in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The network of bus, metro, and taxi services launched in 2021 and is slated for expansion in the future. During the World Cup, over 18 million passengers used the metro.²² According to EIE data, metro trips in Doha surpassed motorcycle trips in 2022 to become the second-most popular mode for total trips and distance traveled. If a city decides to take similar actions to Doha in their community, they can track their efforts by viewing public transportation usage over time with EIE’s Transportation Emissions data.

Global cycling trips have increased post-pandemic

Figure 4: On average, cycling trips increased in 2022, compared to 2019. This reflects a continued positive post-pandemic trend.

Some sustainable transportation trends seem here to stay. Globally, as a socially-distanced form of exercise and mode of travel, cycling became increasingly popular during the pandemic. As more people became interested in biking,²³ bicycle sales soared²⁴ and demand even outpaced supply at certain points during the pandemic.²⁵

Compared to 2019, cycling trips across the globe increased by 68% in 2022. This reflects city efforts in creating bike-friendly policies and plans, as we explored in our 2021 Transportation Emissions data release last year. Some cities across the world are known to be bike-friendly,²⁶ and local governments worldwide are prioritizing bicycle infrastructure in their comprehensive and long-range plans.²⁷ Citizens are also starting to ask for more protected bike lanes for safer biking throughout cities.²⁸

Continued investment in bike-friendly infrastructure, like protected bike lanes and low-emission zones, can help incentivize citizens to shift away from private vehicle usage and make cycling a larger share of the overall transportation mode split.

Using EIE data to help inform sustainable policies

EIE’s 2022 Transportation Emissions data reveals many shifting global transportation trends, due to various post-pandemic policy changes. We see opportunities for cities to continue to incentivize public transit use and invest in low-emission zones and other infrastructure that encourages more cycling and walking, as a way to shift away from private vehicle usage.

EIE aims to support local governments with clear, accurate data to help with this transition. We continue to partner with local governments and climate-focused organizations to explore new ways to support climate action planning in cities across the globe. If you’re interested in learning more about how EIE can help your community, fill out this form to receive updates from the team. If you’re government-affiliated and you’d like to get full access to your city’s data, sign up for EIE’s Insights Workspace.

“In 2017, Greater Manchester established a goal of 50% of trips to be made by sustainable modes by 2040, promoting public transport and active travel (walking, cycling). In combination with locally-collected data, EIE insights are helping the metropolitan region make the best possible estimates of travel to, from and within Greater Manchester. That work is now informing the city’s transport emissions reduction goals.”

- Rosalind O’Driscoll — Head of Policy, Insight & Public Affairs, Transport for Greater Manchester, UK