Populations that Receive or Could Benefit From Increased Access to Transportation
Many transportation systems in rural areas are specifically
designed to serve special populations, including children, older adults, veterans, tribal
populations, and populations with disabilities or low income, among others. For an overview of
considerations for implementing transportation programs for these populations, see Module 4
Transportation provides children living in rural areas with access to a range of essential
activities, including school, day care, and medical appointments. Children who live in rural
communities use transportation services to benefit from enriching community resources like libraries,
afterschool care, sports, and entertainment activities. However, rural schools may struggle to meet
the transportation needs of students due to long distances between schools and homes and the
additional cost involved.
Rural communities have a
higher percentage of adults over the age of 65 compared to other parts of the country. Older adults in
rural areas primarily use personal automobiles for transportation. This puts them at
risk of social isolation if they become unable to drive and cannot access other transportation options.
A national study found that rural older
adults scored lower in social functioning measures than urban adults, and would therefore be prone to social
isolation. The authors suggested that rural older adults may benefit from increased social programming and
community participation, which may require access to transportation. While older rural adults may qualify for
medical transport through Medicare, options for non-essential transportation are more limited. Volunteer driver
programs such as ITNCountry can also increase access to transportation for
Approximately one quarter (4.7 million) of American veterans live
in rural areas. Geographic distance to Veterans Health Administration facilities prevents many rural veterans from accessing
healthcare and human services. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers the Veterans Transportation Program (VTP) to help veterans
travel to VA facilities. The VTP includes the Highly Rural
Transportation Grants, which provide additional funds for transportation services in sparsely-populated
counties. The VA developed a video that describes the
issues that distance poses for veterans and how the VTP can increase access to medical care.
Tribal transportation refers to transportation on Indian Reservation Roads
(IRR) which are roads that connect to tribal reservations and lands, as well as Alaska native villages. Despite
their importance to quality of life and access to care, employment, and education, IRRs are underdeveloped
when compared to other public road networks in the nation. Over half
of the roads in the tribal transportation system are composed of “unimproved earth and
gravel,” and approximately one quarter of bridges in the system are structurally deficient. These road
conditions pose safety concerns for tribal populations and limit opportunities for economic expansion.
Funding for transportation in tribal areas may also require complex planning and coordination processes. Tribal
transportation planning involves close
collaboration between sovereign tribal governments and national agencies, like the U.S. Department of
Transportation's Federal Highway
Administration and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau
of Indian Affairs.
People with Disabilities
with Disabilities Act (ADA) seeks to
ensure that all people with disabilities have access to safe, accessible transportation services.
An estimated 14.8%
of rural residents have a disability. Rural populations with
disabilities often face additional barriers to accessing transportation than those without
disabilities. For example, some disabilities can prevent individuals from driving a personal
automobile or accessing fixed-route transport systems if vehicles are not adapted to meet
accessibility needs. Transportation barriers can prevent rural
populations with disabilities from
receiving necessary health and human services and participating fully in society.
People with Low Incomes
Lack of transportation can prevent rural populations with low incomes from accessing employment
opportunities and programs designed to alleviate poverty. Access to public transportation can be
especially important for low-income families because it may reduce transportation-related expenses
for the household. In 2014, families with lower incomes spent approximately 16%
of their income on transportation-related expenditures, a significant increase from 9% in 2010.
Households in the middle and upper income brackets spent a proportionately lower percentage of their income
(11%) on transportation costs. Additionally, expenditures on both motor
oil and gasoline doubled from 1996 to 2014.
Resources to Learn More
Child Care for Welfare
Participants in Rural Areas
This Rural Welfare Issue Brief discusses transportation issues as they relate to populations with low
incomes accessing child care.
Author(s): Colker, L.J. & Dewees, S.
Organization(s): Macro International Inc.
National Tribal Transportation Conference
This website posts agendas and presentations from past and current National Tribal Transportation
Organization(s): Western Tribal Technical Assistance Program Center, National Indian
Stranded Poor: Recognizing the Importance of Public Transportation for Low-Income Households
This issue brief discusses transportation access issues among low-income individuals and families,
including employment, child care, school, healthcare, and elderly rural residents.
Author(s): Criden, M.
Organization(s): National Association for State Community Services Programs
Transportation Best Practices Guidebook
This resource presents case studies of tribal transportation systems that have been successfully
created and implemented in a variety of settings. It also describes some of the best practices used
by those programs and identifies ways these practices can be integrated into other systems. Finally,
it contains a list of references and checklists that can be used by groups interested in building or
enhancing existing tribal transit systems.
Author(s): Southern, V.J.
Organization(s): Federal Highway Administration Office of Planning