Despite Lower Gas Prices, AAA Expects Fewer Travelers This Memorial Day Weekend

Traffic is light on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge May 18,2020.
Light traffic is seen on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge May 18, 2020. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

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The coronavirus pandemic has undermined road travel data, making it difficult to forecast Memorial Day holiday traffic for the first time in about two decades, AAA announced recently.

The group indicated it intends to forgo its annual forecast, noting it anticipates issuing the report next year. However, anecdotal information points to fewer drivers likely to take to the road during the unofficial start of the summer travel season, it explained.

“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day weekend — the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”

A record-setting 1,077,600 travelers from the Washington metro area had traveled 50 miles or more during the Memorial Day holiday weekend last year, according to a AAA Mid-Atlantic forecast. The group also noted that at nearly 31 million travelers, the Memorial Day holiday of 2009, marked by the Great Recession, recorded the lowest travel volume.

The national average price of gasoline increased slightly recently last week to $1.878 a gallon. That is 97.4 cents per gallon less than a year ago, the Energy Information Administration reported May 18. In New York City, the average was $2.014 a gallon, Chicago was $2.208 and Los Angeles was $2.680.

“Gas prices around Memorial Day have not been this cheap in nearly 20 years. However, as the country continues to practice social distancing, this year’s unofficial kickoff to summer is not going to drive the typical millions of Americans to travel,” said John Townsend, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Despite inexpensive gas prices, AAA anticipates this year’s holiday will likely set a record low for travel volume.”

As the country prepares for the start of the summer season, transportation officials and stakeholders have expressed concern about a drop in traffic volume and revenue. The revenue generated from state and federal fuel taxes assists agencies with construction and maintenance projects.

“If this were any other year, we would be talking about Memorial Day traffic, one of the busiest travel weekends of the year,” Patrick Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, said May 21. “Instead, we are talking about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation’s economy and our daily lives. Since the middle of March, our members’ toll facilities have seen traffic and revenue declines of 50% to 90%.”

Meanwhile, several governors have begun to reopen beaches and other parts of their states despite warnings of a surge of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, “Because travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.”

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