AASHTO Journal

APTA: Rural Ridership of Public Transit Increased Since 2007 as Population Declined

At a time when the nation's rural population declined by more than half a million people, public transit ridership in rural areas and small towns increased 7.8 percent from 2007 to 2015, said a study this month by the American Public Transportation Association.

That is more than three times the growth pace of urban transit ridership, the report said.

The authors of "Public Transit's Impact on Rural and Small Towns" made the case that public transit's affordability along with the demographic makeup of those areas combined to make transit options desirable.

The report also noted that seniors, veterans and people with disabilities used public transit services the most in U.S. rural areas.   

dollarpump.jpg"America's rural population is declining, but ridership has increased from 2007 to 2015," it said. This equates to an 8.6 percent increase in per-capita rural ridership over the past 8 years, and a 7.8 percent increase in total rural ridership.

"For comparison, urban public transit ridership increased by 2.3 percent in the same time period."

APTA Acting President Richard White said while the public is generally well aware of the impact of public transportation options in big cities and urban areas, people may not realize that transit is often "a lifeline service for many in rural and small communities."

The U.S. Department of Transportation said in an Oct. 3 infographic that nearly 40 percent of the U.S. transit-dependent population lives in rural areas.

State DOTs are heavily involved in providing rural transportation, as they often oversee and help fund the bus and van service providers in rural areas.

White also said that as the Trump administration and Congress consider project needs for a new infrastructure initiative, "it is crucial to include investments in public transportation because of its importance among seniors, veterans and those with disabilities in these [rural] communities."

And at a time when some policymakers want to cut transit funding, he said it is "essential" that Congress fully fund transit programs at levels lawmakers authorized in 2015 in the five-year Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act.

Among its details, APTA said the report showed that rural residents with disabilities particularly rely on public transportation. "These residents take nearly 50 percent more public transit trips than unimpaired people," APTA said.

In addition, the association said, "there are 2.9 million veterans residing in rural [areas] and small towns, which make up 33 percent of the veteran population enrolled in the VA health care system. Public transit can help this population access needed services, particularly wounded veterans with limited mobility, according to the report." 

Scott Bogren, executive director of the Community Transportation Association of America said: "Because of the consistent resiliency of ridership in these areas, increased funding will be crucial to address growing demand and capital needs."

The report noted that using transit can help cut vehicle operating costs for fuel and maintenance.  "In fact, rural and small town households spend nearly seven percent more of their budgets on transportation than those in urban households," APTA said.

Compared with taking their own cars, "expanding public transit in rural and small towns provides a safe alternative that helps reduce the risk of road accidents for vulnerable populations," said White," while at the same time its use promotes active lifestyles."

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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