Living outside of the city poses some unique challenges if paratransit services are required. For those people living in sparsely populated areas far from urban fixed routes, it can be a challenge to find accessible, affordable, and safe public transportation alternatives. While all transit agencies struggle with viable funding opportunities, rural paratransit providers, in particular, face an uphill battle in terms of receiving any sort of capital funding to adequately service their communities.
Here are a few facts about rural paratransit that many are unaware of:
- There’s a department that looks after rural transit routes called the National Rural Transit Assistance Program, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
- The topic of funding for rural paratransit first came up during the 1973 Federal-Aid Highway Act as part of a discussion on improving rural roads. The 1970s were a time of deregulation and freight became decoupled from passenger service. This made it harder for intercity transit companies, such as Greyhound, to turn a profit on rural routes, and many intercity and rural routes were eliminated.
- From 1984 to 1991, there was a decrease in the number of available intercity routes.
- The 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act helped to bring funding together with strategic planning. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) aimed to provide public transit to those with reduced mobility or disabilities.
- In 2005, Congress passed the SAFETEA-LU Act which doubled the funding for rural transit. It was replaced by MAP-21 in 2012.
- The Community Transportation Association of America and the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute conducted a study about how a lack of reliable rural paratransit negatively affects the health and quality of life of the elderly with missed doctor’s appointments. The Transit Cooperative Research Program conducted a study which weighs the costs of providing reliable rural paratransit with the costs of increased healthcare needed to account for a lack of transportation. The results indicate that a well-operated rural paratransit system costs less than the increased healthcare costs required to serve the elderly.
Rural Paratransit Solutions
While the SAFETEA-LU Act greatly increased the available funding for rural paratransit, there are still areas in need of improvement. Ideally, the federal government pays 1/5 of the cost of a ride with the rest coming from regional or local sources, however; this is not always the case.
Technology is needed to update old systems and help ease the challenges that administrative staff and transportation managers face on a daily basis. In particular, rural transit software can help bridge the operational gaps that exist and streamline business processes. In one rural district, Perry County, PA, Ecolane’s rural transit software helped the transportation authority decrease fuel costs by 40%, run more trips, and do so while dramatically improving their negative cash flow situation.
The need for quality rural paratransit is critical in enabling the elderly and the mobility-impaired to have reliable access to medical appointments. A well-run rural paratransit system improves the safety and quality of life of all in the community.