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Resources Needed to Implement Rural Transportation Programs

An important element of implementing any rural transportation program is planning for the resources and costs needed to use and maintain the various modes of transportation. Resources will need to be allocated both initially for developing the program as well as for regular maintenance and upkeep. Costs for maintenance should be estimated upfront if at all possible, including costs for replacing equipment and infrastructure upkeep. Considering sustainability issues, resources, and necessary future funding are important components of implementing any program. With an increasing demand for transit options in rural communities, especially with a growing older adult population, there is a need for programs to be able to stretch resources to serve more people.

The majority of federal transportation funding is given to state and local transportation agencies. The Federal Highway Administration's Federal Lands Highway Program is one funding source for rural areas that is designated for federal or tribal lands, including national parks and monuments. The U.S. Department of Transportation also provides Formula Grants for rural areas, which include the 5311 Rural Formula program, Tribal program, Appalachian program, and the Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP). The Formula Grants program provides funding and implementation assistance for public transit programs in rural areas with less than 50,000 residents. For additional information about key considerations for sustainability of rural transportation programs and examples of federal agencies and programs that provide funding for transportation, see Module 6.

Determining the type of equipment and vehicles for a transportation program will depend on factors such as the type of program being implemented, the funding structure for the program, the terrain and geographic region, the purpose of transportation (for example, transportation for medical visits), as well as the population served. Aside from purchasing equipment for a transportation program, several resources will account for the majority of expenses. These include:

  • Wages of staff
  • Benefits for staff such as health insurance
  • Maintenance for vehicles and equipment
  • Fuel

Depending on the resources available and costs, the program may provide services for a fee, on a sliding-fee scale, or at no cost.

Fuel and other energy costs should be considered when developing and implementing a transportation program. Energy resources needed to implement a program can impact the total operating budget. Transportation programs that operate regularly over long distances in remote regions of the country may encounter higher energy and fuel costs; however, these costs are an important consideration for any program. Changing policies and an increased focus on reducing gasoline emissions may change some of these considerations for transportation programs over the next several years. For example, national programs are working to make transportation vehicles, such as trucks and buses, more efficient and less reliant on gasoline.

Resources to Learn More

Effects of Rising Gas Prices on Bus Ridership for Small Urban and Rural Transit Systems
Details the effect of gas prices on usage of public bus transit in small urban and rural areas. Information on short and long term effects is included, along with recommendations to alleviate these effects for program planners.
Author(s): Mattson, J.
Organization(s): Small Urban and Rural Transit Center
Date: 6/2008

Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance
Assists planners in designing an evaluation of a demand-response transportation program. It includes chapters on performance measures, collecting data for rural demand-response programs, and recommendations on improving overall performance.
Author(s): Ellis, E. & McCollom, B.
Organization(s): The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Date: 2009

Guidebook: Managing Operating Costs for Rural and Small Urban Public Transit Systems
Outlines best practices for operating transit systems in rural and small urban areas, giving special attention to financial sustainability of the program and methods to increase productivity of the system.
Author(s): Edrington, S., Brooks, J., Cherrington, L., Hamilton, P., Hansen, T., Pourteau, C., & Sandidge, M.
Organization(s): Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Date: 3/2014

Transportation Planning for an Uncertain Energy Future: Creating a Resilient Transportation System for the Monadnock Region
Provides information on creating a transportation system that can withstand changes to energy costs and availability. It includes guidance on improved land use planning, parking management, and increasing access to alternative transportation options.
Organization(s): Southwest Region Planning Commission
Date: 6/2015

USDOT's Energy Blueprint: Efficient Transportation for America
Outlines recent innovations in energy efficiency across transportation systems that will benefit the environment, lower travel times, and reduce consumption of petroleum.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Transportation
Date: 5/2012