Non-car modes already play a huge role in suburban and rural life

It’s easy for people in suburban and rural areas to assume that getting around would not be possible without a car. It’s true that many people currently use their cars for everything, largely because they have little exposure to or confidence in anything else.

Here are two things they might not know:

Options other than driving your personal vehicle – such as formal public transportation services and informal, sometimes spontaneous arrangements such as carpooling – exist everywhere. These “alternative” modes are essential to suburban and rural areas’ transportation systems. Here’s an overview of non-drive alone modes that already exist – and are making a huge difference – in suburban and rural areas.

Lots of buses and trains serve low-density areas. The average person appreciates…some of them. There are plenty of scenarios in which people who usually drive are happy to hop on a high-capacity transit (or transit-like) vehicle. Regular old bus and rail routes can serve as attractive options for trips to popular, congested locations, while a variety of situations call for specialized buses of some sort.

“Some people who don’t ride on the usual actually will use [transit] for events and concerts,” explained Colin Parent, executive director of Circulate San Diego and a city councilmember in suburban La Mesa, Calif. He cited the busy U.S.-Mexico border crossing and annual Comic-Con convention as popular transit destinations.

Special events aren’t the only time drivers hop on high-capacity vehicles without hesitation. Commuter rail is obvious – but we usually forget about airports’ parking and rental-car terminals. These arrive at incredible frequencies that many transit bus riders can only dream of. Old-fashioned, yellow school buses are another example.

There’s one type of low-density bus service that non-regular riders aren’t as comfortable with – the local routes that serve their own neighborhoods. These routes get people, including the workers who ring up their groceries and the mechanics who keep their cars running, where they need to go. Yet many residents assume that someone would never ride their community’s buses by choice.

Sadly, this stereotype leads to a lack of support for suburban and rural local bus systems, leading to limited service that often is not integrated well with the commuter-oriented transit routes more affluent residents utilize.

When the transportation system doesn’t offer sufficient options, people find ways to fill the gaps Suburban and rural drivers also carry passengers in their own cars. After all, when people are heading in the same direction, riding together maximizes efficiency and reduces congestion.

While app-based ride-hailing services are available in low-density areas, options people have created for themselves – including fixed-route carpooling (also known as slugging), organized vanpools for company employees, and casual ride arrangements between friends and colleagues – have enjoyed more success.

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