Needs Related to Transportation in Rural Areas
Access to transportation contributes to the economic development, health, and quality of life of rural
communities. Reliable transportation is needed for rural residents to access healthcare services, consumer
services, employment and
educational opportunities, and social services. It is also important for accessing recreation and other
activities of daily life.
Access to safe and reliable transportation impacts the health and well-being of rural populations.
Transportation is necessary for accessing healthcare services in rural communities, particularly in communities
where walking or cycling may not be feasible alternatives to reach a healthcare provider. Rural populations rely
on personal vehicles, public transport, and non-emergency
medical transport to meet their healthcare needs. The American Public Transportation Association reports
services as the final destination for nearly 9% of public transit riders in small urban and rural areas.
When these forms of transportation are unavailable, unaffordable, or difficult to access, rural community
members may not be able to receive important services. Barriers to transportation can result in missed
healthcare appointments, delays in receiving healthcare interventions, and missed or delayed use of needed
medications—all of which may have
consequences for managing health conditions. Not having a reliable source of transportation
can impact how rural
community members make decisions about healthcare. Even when
they do have access to transportation, long travel distances can affect their health. For example, care
may be delayed to avoid taking time away from work, school, and other commitments.
Employment and Educational Opportunities
Commuting to places of employment is an essential use of transportation services in rural areas. Economic
stability for many rural residents is dependent on a reliable means of transportation to a place of employment.
In a survey of small urban and rural public transit riders, one report found 34% of all public transit trips
accounting for work as the primary destination. For some rural residents, longer commute times and lack of
transportation options are common
barriers to employment. Existing transportation assistance services may have higher costs per
rider in rural areas when compared to urban areas, primarily due to long travel distances and low
Expanding a communities' access to education improves
its economic competitiveness and livability. There is a significant need in rural areas for
transportation to and from schools for access to all levels of education. The American Public Transportation
Association reports that 12% of all public transit rides are to and from school. Rural children face increased
travel time due to the long distances needed to travel to school in rural communities.
Access to Social Services and other Community Activities
Limited transportation options may prevent rural residents from accessing social services and consumer needs
(such as running errands or shopping). In more remote
locations, transportation may be essential to ensure civic engagement and other types of engagement
in community life. Voting for local, statewide, and national elections can be a challenge for those
living in rural areas because of limited voting places and transportation options. Tribal populations
in particular lack
sufficient access to polling places.
Resources to Learn More
Moving Rural Residents to
A review of eight projects in rural communities addressing job access, including implementation
process, transportation services provided, and solutions to challenges.
Author(s): Stommes, E.S. & Brown, D.M.
Citation: Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 1903, 45–53
National Rural Social Work Caucus
Collection of resources for rural social workers, including relevant journal articles and continuing education.
Links to transportation resources are listed under the“Useful Links” tab in the Journal/Resources
Organization(s): Rural Social Work Caucus
Transportation to Support Rural Healthcare
Provides an overview of transportation as a social determinant of health in rural communities, as well as
resources for developing a transportation program.
Organization(s): Rural Health Information Hub
U.S. Rural Population and Scheduled Intercity Transportation in 2010: A Five-Year Decline in Transportation
Describes the decline in transportation systems that connect rural communities with each other and with urban
centers, which is important for employment and healthcare access.
Author(s): Firestine, T.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Transportation