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Models that Increase Access to Public Transportation

In this model, public transit agencies and partners implement strategies to increase access to public transit to all community residents. Public transportation can be a critical link to participation in civic and social life, particularly for older adults who can no longer regularly drive, people with disabilities, people without reliable access to a personal vehicle, and young people without a driver's license. Access to public transit can also reduce social isolation, a major cause of depression. Access to public transportation can increase an individual's independence, particularly for those with limited mobility who live alone.

Those who use public transportation systems are also often pedestrians who walk to and from a transit stop or station. For that reason, rural communities may need to ensure that transit plans include safe, wheelchair and bicycle-friendly pedestrian access to bus stops or other transportation hubs.

Better integration between bikes, pedestrians, and transit systems can improve safety for bicycle riders and allow for less reliance on more traditional forms of transportation. Types of integration include introducing bike storage options at transit stops, adding bike racks to transit buses, and building paths or routes leading to transit stops. It can also allow for easier access to rural areas for tourists interested in visiting rural communities or small towns for recreation opportunities.

Examples of Programs that Increase Access to Public Transportation

  • To ensure passengers with disabilities or mobility issues are able to access public bus services, Bay Area Rural Transit (BART) of northern Wisconsin introduced wheelchair lifts on all of their buses and designated seating in the front of the bus for elderly passengers and those with disabilities. Riders with specific accessibility needs can contact the BART office directly and speak with a mobility manager specialist to ensure their needs are met.

Considerations for Implementation

Installing clear signage, schedules, or other markers at transit stops can help increase awareness of transit services. Attractive, well-lit stops can also make transit services appear safer and more appealing to a diverse group of potential users.

Program planners may need to build partnerships with a wide variety of nonprofit and corporate partners to ensure the success of public transport changes or improvements. Large employers in the area may be interested in supporting access to public transit in order to facilitate transportation to work for their employees. Support from partners can also help subsidize routes to other parts of the community.

People with visual or auditory impairments may experience particular challenges in using public transit services. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides some requirements for accessibility that public transit agencies must follow. Accommodations can include:

  • Installing pedestrian signals that emit noises and offer visual cues to indicate the signal has changed to “walk”
  • Ensuring there are well-placed and useable crosswalks near transit stops
  • Providing signage, route maps, and other information in formats other than print
  • Ensuring bus stops are consistently placed across the transit system (for example, always placed just before the corner or just beyond the corner)

Resources to Learn More

ADA Toolkit
This online tool can help rural transit providers ensure they are complying with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The tool includes descriptions of ADA requirements by service type and specific mobility accommodations, as well as other safety information.
Organization(s): National Rural Transit Assistance Program

Integration of Bicycles and Transit
This comprehensive report outlines best practices for integrating bicycles in bus, rail, and ferry transit options. Specific recommendations about implementing this type of program are also included.
Author(s): Doolittle, J. & Porter, E.
Organization(s): Transportation Research Board
Date: 1994

National Public Transportation Safety Plan
This report explains federal standards for safety and performance of transit operations. It provides guidance to transit providers on improved measures that can be enacted to improve public safety.
Organization(s): Federal Transit Administration
Date: 4/2024

Toolkit for the Assessment of Bus Stop Accessibility and Safety
This report reviews improved design elements to bus stops to accommodate older adults and people with disabilities. Other recommended improvements to bus stop lighting, routes, shelter, and security are included.
Organization(s): National Aging and Disability Transportation Center, Easter Seals Project ACTION
Date: 2014