40% of Americans Who Rely on Public Transit Live in Rural Areas

So this is interesting. Apparently, 40% of Americans who rely on public transit live in rural areas and small towns. And those folks—which include large numbers of elderly, disabled, and low income riders—typically have very few options for getting around. And yes, it's also yet another opportune moment to flip the bird at suburbs and sprawl.

That eye-opening figures come from a new report, Reconnecting America, that takes an in-depth look at how small towns are working to improve those transit systems, usually buses, to serve more people more efficiently. It details the case of Allendale, a poor county in Georgia that's making headway. Streetsblog reports:

In 2003, Allendale County leaders came together to solve a vexing mobility problem: a finely dispersed population with a staggering 28 percent poverty rate. They discovered that the county was already running a number of fragmented transit services — those that served only the disabled, for example, or Medicaid recipients in need of healthcare services.

From the report: "Allendale’s Regional Transit Authority agreed to station a “mobility manager” in Allendale to implement this project. The mobility manager would match residents with available seats on existing vehicles operated by agencies in the region, depending on the destination of the resident. For passengers who needed to reach destinations that were not along a scheduled route, participating agencies would transport them on their demand-response vehicles, agreeing on a common per passenger mile rate for transporting the general public on these seats."

While this is a laudable example of calibrating existing resources to their fullest potential, it reveals a major problem. This project is funded by a patchwork of charity groups, state and federal agencies, and nonprofits—which is both inefficient and far from guarantees the program's longterm security. And hundreds of transit networks around the nation face similar woes and even worse shortfalls.

And the problem is only likely to get worse. As oil (and hence gasoline) prices rise, driving will slash away at larger and larger portions of folks' income. Some economists go so far as to argue that suburbs are on their way to becoming the new slums largely as a result of the dearth of transportation options in rural areas. It's indeed a growing conundrum, and one without an easy solution—for now, county leaders will have to rely on resourceful efforts like Allendale's to keep residents mobile.

Tags: Transportation