Rural transportation services

Rural transportation services provide transportation across large areas that have low population densities and lack established public transportation systems. Services may include shared transportation options such as publicly-funded buses and vans running on fixed routes and schedules, more flexible pick-up and drop-off with smaller vehicles (e.g., dial-a-ride and other demand-response programs), or volunteer ridesharing programs (Mattson 2016).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased mobility

  • Increased access to health care

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased access to employment

Evidence of Effectiveness

Rural transportation services are a suggested strategy to increase mobility and access to health care for rural populations (National RTAP, RHIhub-Transportation). Available evidence suggests that such services can increase mobility among vulnerable populations such as elderly adults, people with disabilities, and individuals with low incomes (Marr 2015), and increase access to medical services (), grocery stores, other retailers, and community activities (). Rural transportation services may also increase access to jobs (), provide opportunities for higher wages for individuals who live in rural areas (), and benefit local economies (). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Rural transportation networks often have high per capita costs, and are frequently personalized based on the needs of users (Stommes 2005). Efforts to track and evaluate the operating costs of rural demand-response programs can help improve performance and reduce program costs (TRB-Ellis 2009). Researchers also suggest that organizations that serve residents in rural areas partner to coordinate existing efforts to transport clients with similar routes or destinations (, Marr 2015).

A Texas-based study suggests that taxpayers value rural transportation services for elderly adults and are willing to financially support such services (). Cost benefit analysis finds positive net benefits for rural transportation services overall (Godavarthy 2015). 

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

The US Department of Transportation provides capital and operating assistance for rural transit through Section 5311 grants. Low income populations are considered as a factor in the grant formula (US DOT-Section 5311). As of 2014, 81% of US counties have some form of rural transit service; 428 rural transit agencies provide fixed-route service and 266 rural transit agencies offer demand-response (e.g., dial-a-ride) and fixed-route services across the US (Mattson 2016).

The Rural Passenger Transportation Technical Assistance Program (RPTTAP) and the Tribal Passenger Transportation Technical Assistance Program (TPTTAP) provide technical assistance to small communities to create and improve rural and tribal public transportation (CTAA-Rural). These programs were created by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are administered by Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA-Rural).

Some state government agencies have established vanpools to transport rural residents to employment opportunities in rural and urban areas; California and Wisconsin are two examples (CalVans, Sampson 2014, WI DOA-Vanpool). 

Implementation Resources

National RTAP - National Rural Transit Assistance Program (National RTAP). History of National RTAP.

TRB-Ellis 2009 - Ellis E, McCollom B. TCRP Report 136. Guidebook for rural demand-response transportation: Measuring, assessing, and improving performance. Washington,DC: Transportation Research Board (TRB); 2009.

APTA-Resources - American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Resource library.

Mattson 2016 - Mattson J. Rural transit fact book 2016. Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University (NDSU), Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, Small Urban and Rural Transit Center; 2016.

Edrington 2014 - Edrington S, Brooks J, Cherrington L, et al. Guidebook: Managing operating costs for rural and small urban public transit systems. College Station, TX: Texas A&M Transportation Institute; 2014.

National RTAP-State toolkit - National Rural Transit Assistance Program (National RTAP). State RTAP manager’s toolkit.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

National RTAP - National Rural Transit Assistance Program (National RTAP). History of National RTAP.

Peng 1998* - Peng ZR, Nelson AC. Rural transit services: A local economic and fiscal impact analysis. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 1998;(1623):57–62.

Stommes 2005 - Stommes ES, Brown DM. Moving rural residents to work. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2005;(1903):45–53.

Thakuriah 2011b* - Thakuriah (Vonu) P. Variations in employment transportation outcomes: Role of site-level factors. Papers Regional Science. 2011;90(4):755–72.

Thakuriah 2013* - Thakuriah (Vonu) P, Persky J, Soot S, Sriraj PS. Costs and benefits of employment transportation for low-wage workers: An assessment of job access public transportation services. Evaluation and Program Planning. 2013;37:31–42.

TRB-Ellis 2009 - Ellis E, McCollom B. TCRP Report 136. Guidebook for rural demand-response transportation: Measuring, assessing, and improving performance. Washington,DC: Transportation Research Board (TRB); 2009.

Marr 2015 - Marr EJ. Assessing transportation disadvantage in rural Ontario, Canada: A case study of Huron County. Journal of Rural and Community Development. 2015;10(2):100-120.

Yang 2017* - Yang H, Cherry CR. Use characteristics and demographics of rural transit riders: A case study in Tennessee. Transportation Planning and Technology. 2017;40(2):213-227.

Bond 2017* - Bond M, Brown JR, Wood J. Adapting to challenge: Examining older adult transportation in rural communities. Case Studies on Transport Policy. 2017.

Godavarthy 2015 - Godavarthy RP, Mattson J, Ndembe E. Cost–benefit analysis of rural and small urban transit in the United States. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2015;2533:141-148.

Israel Schwarzlose 2014* - Israel Schwarzlose AA, Mjelde JW, Dudensing RM, et al. Willingness to pay for public transportation options for improving the quality of life of the rural elderly. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice. 2014;61:1-14.

RHIhub-Transportation - Rural Health Information Hub (RHIhub). Transportation to support rural healthcare.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

US DOT-Section 5311 - US Department of Transportation (US DOT). Fact sheet: Formula grants for rural areas, section 5311. 2012.

Sampson 2014 - Sampson R. CalVans: An easy ride to the hard work on a farm. California Vanpool Authority. 2014.

CalVans - California Vanpool Authority (CalVans). California’s single source for ridesharing to work or college in a CalVans vehicle.

WI DOA-Vanpool - Wisconsin Department of Administration (WI DOA). Joining a vanpool.

Mattson 2016 - Mattson J. Rural transit fact book 2016. Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University (NDSU), Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, Small Urban and Rural Transit Center; 2016.

CTAA-Rural - Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). Summary: Rural & tribal passenger transportation technical assistance through CTAA.

Date Last Updated

Aug 23, 2017