For rural Americans who don’t have access to cars, basics like grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments can turn into an arduous struggle. With few transit options at low densities, the expense and hassle of finding an alternative ride can mean important appointments simply get skipped.
That’s a problem. Rural communities increasingly reflect a group of people who don’t drive—they’re older, less mobile, and poorer. That’s the gist of a new report by the American Public Transit Association. While transit systems in large urban centers rightly draw most attention from advocates, ignoring the growing demand for service in far-flung towns risks shutting out some of the neediest would-be riders.
Ridership in rural areas, the report finds, has grown since 2007, which was the year the Bureau of Transportation Statistics began collecting data. Between that year and 2015, total rural ridership increased by by 7.8 percent, compared to 2.3 percent in urban areas. In both categories, ridership has fallen off in 2015 and 2016, likely due to the recent drop in gas prices. But according to APTA, small-town passenger bases might be a little more resilient to those in big cities—as workers and families have left rural America in search of opportunity, per capita ridership rates have kept growing.
It seems that’s largely because as small towns shrink, those left behind are grayer than average—older Americans make up 17 percent of rural populations, compared to 13 percent in cities and 14 percent nationwide. Their share of rural populations is growing steadily, just as it is overall. Whether these individuals can “age in place” successfully depends in part on how well they can get around, especially once the car isn’t an option. Drivers licenses drop off after age 70, and accumulating health conditions impede a person’s ability to control a vehicle.
Small towns also have a higher proportion of former service members: Roughly 30 percent of enrollees in the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Administration system live in rural areas, and 44 percent of these veterans have at least one service connected health condition—conditions that can hinder their ability to drive. As a group, individuals with disabilities take about 50 percent more trips on transit that those without.
Click here to read the full article: https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2017/10/how-transit-use-could-rise-in-rural-america/542184/