Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Making Rural America More Mobile

http://www.citylab.com; October 10, 2017


Hello Everyone:

Blogger is coming to you from her usual workspace, on a sparkling autumn afternoon.  Yours Truly loves afternoons like this, perfect for strolling along the sidewalks watching the stores deck themselves  for the upcoming holidays.  Almost makes Yours Truly want not to write.  However, Blogger's allergies say stay indoors and write.  Since this is the situation, shall we talk about rural transit instead?

If you are one 46.2 million Americans that live in the rural regions, getting from home to school, work, appointments, or doing errands can be an effort.  Unlike the urban or suburban regions, the rural regions have few transit options at low densities, finding an alternative to the car can mean having to forego crucial appointments or errands.

Laura Bliss points out in her CityLab article "How Transit Ue Could Rise in Rural America," "That's a problem.  Rural communities increasingly reflect a group of people who don't drive-they're older, less mobile, and poorer."  This is main point of a new report by the American Public Transportation Association entitled, Rural and Small Town Public Transit Ridership Increased Nearly 8% Since 2007 [apta.com; Oct. 5, 2017; date accessed Nov. 14, 2017].  Transit systems in large urban centers usually commends attention from transit supporters, however it ignores the growing demand for service in outlying towns, potentially shutting out some of the neediest riders.

The study found that rural ridership has increased since 2007, the first year the Bureau of Transportation Statistics began collecting information.  Ms. Bliss writes, "Between that year and 2015, total rural ridership increased by 7.8 percent compared to 2.3 percent in urban areas.  In both categories, ridership has fallen off in 2015 and 2016, likely due to the recent drop in gas prices."  According to the APTA, small-town ridership demonstrates signs of greater resiliency than their urban counterparts-"as workers and families have left rural America in search of opportunity, per capita ridership rate have kept growing."

Ms. Bliss observes, "It seems that's largely because as small towns shrink, those left behind are greater than average-older Americans make up 17 percent of rural populations, compared to 13 percent in cities and 14 percent nationwide."  That 17 percent of older rural Americans is steadily rowing; as it is overall.  Whether or not older Americans can successfully age in place depends on how mobile they are, especially one the car is taken out of the equation.  The number of driver license holders tends to drop off after the age of 70; as assorted health issues impede one's ability to control an automobile.

Another notable feature of small town demographics is the higher number of veterans: "Roughly 30 percent of enrollees in the Department of Veteran Affais Health Administration system live in rural ares and 44 percent of these veterans have at least one service connected health condition-" which can hinder a person's ability to drive.  As a demographic group, disabled individuals take "about 50 percent more trips on transit that those without."

Here is an interesting real fact, although car ownership rates have increased in rural America than in urban areas, so has the poverty rate.  You would think that higher car ownership rates would translate into a more mobile population-able to access work and educational opportunities-but not so.  Lower median incomes mean that the cost of owning a car takes up a larger share of personal income.  Roughly, "Rural households spend about seven percent points more of their budgets on transportation than those in cities."

This underscore the absolute necessity of a wider variety of transit options-be it traditional bus or nascent micro-transit service (citylab.com; Sept. 21, 2017; date accessed Nov. 14, 2017)-in America's least connected places.  Darnell Grisby, APTA's director of policy development and research told CityLab,  "Rather than promise to resurrect dying industries, lawmakers might serve their rural constituents better if they supported investments in mobility as a foundation of economic mobility..." (voanews.com; Oct. 9, 2017; date accessed Nov. 14, 2017).  There is also a moral calculus: "Low-income older Americans may need transit, but they tend not to vote for candidates that support it."  It sounds counterintuitive but according to Mr. Grisby,

These are the constituencies of the current president.

Laura Bliss writes, "The recent story transit ridership is all about how you slice and dice data.  Thanks to demographic forces, rural; areas are gaining a base of captive riders, for better or for worse."  However, rural transit has not been the exception to this trend.  Throughout the United States, transit ridership has increased since the pre-Great Recession days, however over the past two years, the drop in gas prices has slowed the ridership in rural and urban areas.  In the long-term, "establishing lasting ridership gains that aren't tied to fuel costs depends on quality of service."  This goes for small town towns and urban centers as well.