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Forward Motion: Transportation Planning

Planning for Public Transportation in Rural Communities

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According to the Community Transportation Association, “More than one-third of America’s population lives outside of urbanized areas. Nearly 40 percent of the country’s transit dependent population — primarily senior citizens, persons with disabilities and low-income individuals — resides in rural areas. Yet in many of these communities, public and community transportation are limited or absent.”

Taking the First Step: Gauging Potential Transit Markets

Chances are that your community already has some type of transit service in place, whether it’s a federally-funded public transit system, a church-sponsored volunteer driver program, shuttle buses run by retirement communities, or vans operated by human service agencies. These services may be working pretty well as is, but your community can probably get more mileage out of them by figuring out ways to coordinate routes and leverage resources.

Below are a few questions and ideas you could explore just to begin conversations about your community’s potential markets for new or expanded transit services. This isn’t a full-fledged needs assessment by any means, but it might help you form a base of information and find some champions who can launch a real planning process with assistance from the U.S. DOT Rural Transit Technical Assistance Program (RTAP).

1. Is a growing percentage of your population disabled and/or moving into its golden years?

One in five rural Americans is disabled, and 14 percent of the country’s rural population is elderly. Rural older adults (and their families) worry about how they will manage if they become unable to drive. Few families have the time or money required to chauffer their aging parents and relatives to all the places they need or want to go. Moreover, without other transportation options, older adults can deteriorate quickly due to isolation, depression, and health problems that are exacerbated by difficulty getting to places like grocery stores and medical appointments.

2. What is the transportation status of your community’s low-income households and those who are unemployed?

Many low-income people in rural areas have trouble getting or holding onto jobs because they don’t have adequate, reliable transportation to get to work. Nearly 57 percent of the rural poor do not own a car. This equates to about one in every 14 households in rural America.

You can’t phone in for jobs like bagging groceries, cleaning hotels, and waiting tables. If your car breaks down or your ride fails to show up on a regular basis, your employer will have to look for someone to take your place (the resulting employee turnover is hard on businesses, too). What’s more, as fuel prices rise, those who can drive need to spend a far greater percentage of their small paycheck on gas than people who live closer to work and/or have higher-paying jobs. …

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photo of Hannah TwaddellHannah Twaddell is President and founder of Twaddell Associates, LLC, a consulting practice specializing in community planning, public engagement, facilitation, and education. Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, the firm provides planning, facilitation, and educational services to communities, government agencies, and private organizations across the U.S.

Before setting up Twaddell Associates, Hannah was a Senior Transportation Planner with Renaissance Planning Group, where she has worked on transportation planning and public involvement projects in several states. Prior to that, she served as Assistant Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (in Charlottesville) and as chief staff to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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