Research Snapshot: Rural Transportation Options

August 22, 2019


Nearly 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act people with disabilities still report transportation as a significant barrier to employment, health care, and community participation. This is especially true in rural communities where public transit may be inaccessible, unaffordable, inappropriate, or not available. While many unique solutions exist, there is a lack of evidence about how people use them and how they impact the health and well-being of people with disabilities.

To address this lack of knowledge, RTC:Rural is conducting research about rural transportation options in rural communities across America.

Andrew Myers, RTC:Rural Project Director, explains the project and its goals, and gives a quick progress update.


What will you be doing for the Rural Transportation Options project?

Andrew Myers (AM): The overall goal of this research project is to begin building evidence about why transportation matters for rural individuals with disabilities, in order to inform policy, funding, and future interventions.

The Rural Transportation Options project will begin to compile this knowledge using two surveys and a series of interviews with transportation users. The first survey will begin appearing in the vehicles of a handful of rural transportation service providers this fall, to help us better understand how people use public transit in addition to other forms of transportation.

Why is RTC:Rural doing this research?

AM: While the vast majority of people living in rural communities use personal vehicles, nearly 7% of rural residents do not have access to a personal vehicle. In communities with high rates of disability, nearly 20% may not have access. For these individuals, public transit is essential. The importance of public transportation in rural areas cannot be understated, and yet there is a lack of information about how public transportation impacts community participation and overall well-being among people with disabilities living in rural America.

Further, rural transit is vastly underfunded. For example, while over 25% of Americans live in rural communities, less than 6% of federal transit funding is allocated to serve rural residents. It is likely that the value of investing in rural transportation will continue to be overlooked without evidence of its impact. This knowledge is critical to crafting effective policy, allocating appropriate funding, and developing services that work to serve rural Americans.

What work have you done so far?

AM: In the first year (of this five-year project), we have mostly focused on selecting potential communities to work with and developing survey materials. Because we can’t study every person who uses rural transportation, site selection is an important step since it will determine who we survey. We used three main criteria to select the sites.

First, we will be working in rural counties with a metropolitan area no larger than 20,000 people. Second, there must be at least one transportation service in operation. Finally, we used data from the American Community Survey (ACS) to select counties that were similar in their rates of disability, poverty, and employment.

Who are you working with?

AM: We will be working with transportation providers in 12 rural communities to distribute our brief ridership survey. To begin, Park County, Montana, has agreed to serve as a pilot site to help us shape and finalize our project materials and procedures before launching nationwide. We plan to work with five additional communities throughout the fall.