Understanding travel mode choice through the lens of COVID-19: a systematic review of pandemic commuters

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

ridership - behaviour, ridership - commuting, ridership - mode choice, policy - sustainable, literature review - literature review


Sustainable transport, travel behaviour change, COVID-19, essential workers, pandemic commuting, mode choice


The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted travel behaviours for very large numbers of people including those who shifted to teleworking and those without the option to work from home. While there is much valuable transport research that has examined the former category, it is still unknown how certain people such as health sector employees and delivery drivers changed their physical commuting in transport contexts that were radically different from those existing normally in urban areas. Based on a systematic review of 36 scientific publications on commuting during pandemic, this study pursues a dual objective. First, by examining the interrelated institutional, physical, and socio-psychological processes that supported or hindered low-carbon transport the study revealed that (A) public transport (PT) reduced service levels and concerns related to COVID were positively associated with substantial shifts away from PT towards car and active travel; (B) this positive association was found to be even stronger in the existence of pre-pandemic habit of car use for commute and strong negative emotions like fear triggered by environmental changes and health risks. Second, by synthesising the key findings from the literature, this study provides significant implications for how mode choice is modelled through the Theory of Planned Behavior and Norm Activation Model. By questioning whether the pandemic commuters had a “normal” set of travel mode alternatives to choose from, the study draws attention to the nuances of mode “choice” versus mode “use” and moves beyond the assumption that commuting always results from individuals making choices. It also argues that the role of (negative) emotions along with the importance of proximity to, or separation from, other bodies on how people commute should be considered in future research. Finally, the crucial role of COVID-19 in changing travel-related norms and the resulting long-term implications for policy interventions require further investigation by future research.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Taylor&Francis, copyright remains with them.