With an ever-increasing number of challenging issues that rural commuters face, reliable and safe transportation is near the top of the list. Ecolane works with rural agencies and repeatedly encounter the pain points which drive their decision making. In our experience, 5 challenges seem to rise above the rest.
- Sparsely Populated Areas: This often translates to fewer customers and longer routes. Sparsely populated areas can negatively impact a rural transit's bottom line due to sheer cost in providing this kind of service. Limited numbers of riders may tend to hinder transit services growth.
- Long Distance Trips: Customers tend to be widely spread out in rural areas. Large areas directly affect response time and impact operational costs. Vehicle maintenance, fuel and staffing in rural agencies are notoriously more difficult issues to address.
- Limited Funding: Although both urban and rural agencies work on tight budgets, the latter tend to feel them more and their managers are forced to be creative with their operational budgets. Planning agency spending around increasing efficiency and staff productivity is key.
- The "Aging in Place" Effect: Since more seniors than ever before are choosing to "age in place", increases in on-call and appointment-based transportation needs have skyrocketed in the past decade. For rural areas and the transit organizations that service them, this increase raises scheduling havoc and more quickly depletes resources. Adjusting and analyzing routes, demographics and areas of increased need help agencies tackle these issues created, in part, by the silver tsunami.
- Dependent Populations: In areas where taxis, trains and other modes of transportation aren't available for residents, rural transit is often the only source of getting around. High demand for customized routes and erratic scheduling as well as expectations of efficiency and effectiveness tend to strain rural transit resources.
In order to manage these issues, resources must be allocated to the most vital areas of the transport system. Making changes to and investing in the communications infrastructure, providing tools and training to dispatch personnel in order to help them plan scheduling and routing, and implementing modern transit technologies to create more efficient response systems are the trends we see for the future.