As of 2011, 118 tribal transit programs
were operating throughout the country, according to a report from the Small Urban and Rural Transit
Center about tribal transit funding. These programs provide transportation to tribal populations on tribal lands
and beyond, and are an important part of everyday life for these communities. Providing reliable and
cost-effective transportation on tribal lands remains challenging due to geography and funding.
The large expanse of many tribal lands and their relative seclusion from other populations makes it challenging
for tribal populations to access healthcare. In addition, transportation program planners in tribal areas should
be aware of the strong cultural and familial connection many native people have with their lands. Tribal lands
are often used
to grow food and other resources for the community, as well as sources of renewable energy. Land use
planning is important to consider when developing transportation programs. Tribes should be included in the
planning stages for any program that services their community. Another key consideration is fluctuating gas
prices, which can impact the costs of implementing transportation programs. Tribal populations spend an
estimated one-third of their income on gasoline.
Of particular concern for tribal populations are motor vehicle crashes, which are the leading cause of unintentional
injury for tribal populations ages 1 to 44.
Tribes and their respective states have differing relationships, thus it is important to be aware of this and
appreciate tribes' right to sovereignty and their respective transportation needs when establishing
transportation programs. Tribal sovereignty, which is the right to self-government, allows native populations to
live by tribal and federal law only. Many federal
transportation programs provide funding directly to the tribe, but some programs are administered at the state
level. Some tribes prefer not to work with the State to receive federal funds because of their status as
sovereign nations. As such, tribes may decide to enter into an arbitration to settle the dispute and come to a
mutually satisfactory agreement. Tribes may also choose to apply to become direct recipients of federal funds.
This would allow them to bypass the state government altogether.
Resources to Learn More
Crossing Great Divides: A Guide to
Elder Mobility Resources and Solutions in Indian Country
Discusses the impact of transportation services on healthcare access for American Indian, Alaska Native, and
Native Hawaiian older adults. Provides information about transportation funding opportunities to meet the needs
of elders living on reservations. Describes Title VI Aging Services and Tribal Transit Programs.
Organization(s): National Center on Senior Transportation, National Rural Transit
Developing, Enhancing, and Sustaining Tribal
Transit Services: A Guidebook
Describes challenges tribes face when developing a transit system. Designed to assist with a variety of needs
including clients with special needs in employment, education, healthcare, and other human services.
Organization(s): Transportation Research Board
Public Transportation: Federal Role Key to Rural and Tribal
Examines the Federal Transit Administration's rural transit program, in terms of funding, changes in the program
from 2009 to 2012, and challenges faced by providers.
Organization(s): Government Accountability Office