Staying Connected in Rural America: Mobility & Public Transportation in the 21st Century

A comprehensive, integrated and efficient public transportation system is an access-for-all model that offers greater mobility to rural residents while still preserving rural character...

Public transportation can be a cheaper and greener mobility option for the American public, yet there is a glaring disparity between urban and rural communities’ access to mass transit options. The current systems in place for planning, building and maintaining transportation infrastructure is coming up short in meeting the needs for an ever-mobile America. In tandem, the urgency of anthropogenic climate change requires that we take bold and prompt action to curb carbon emissions, with transportation integral to this task. Hence, a prudent reevaluation of the American transportation system offers great potential in both curbing GHG emissions and improving the overall wellbeing and mobility for all Americans in the 21st century. Expanding the United States’ public transportation infrastructure, particularly in rural America, is vital to conversations regarding two major 21st century challenges: the urgent need to address global climate change and cut emissions, and develop sustainable and lively communities– both rural and urban– so as to increase Americans’ well-being with access to goods, employment, education, healthcare and other services.

System trends and social/economic/demographic trends pose significant challenges to past, present and future (public) transportation developments across the country. Rural communities are disproportionately impacted by the challenges plaguing the American transportation system at large due to less funding for maintenance or expansion, additional geographic/regional burdens (i.e. long distances between population centers, mountain passes, more dramatic weather) and the migration of people, employment and services to urban centers. Furthermore, rural Americans are more dependent on a sufficient transportation system than their urban counterparts simply due to the distances traveled for access to basic goods and services. Thus, a comprehensive, integrated and efficient public transportation system is an access-for-all model that offers greater mobility to rural residents while still preserving rural character and mitigating the ill-effects of sprawl by promoting greater mobility, self-sufficiency, equal access, and financial and energy savings to residents.

The challenges of public transportation in both rural America and the country overall are well studied, and the opportunities of public transportation’s potential are ripe for special consideration. The U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) (2016) defines various contexts for the term “rural”, characterizes the American rural transportation system and lays out the conditions and challenges that the federal government must address in rural transportation planning. Dennis Brown (2004) and fellow economists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture examine public transportation in America: its shortcomings and importance for many low-income rural Americans. NAPTA (2016), the National Alliance of Public Transportation Advocates, is a national organization that advocates for increased investment in public transportation so as to build stronger, more resilient communities across the United States. These are just a small handful of the copious resources available for delving into the topic of public transportation in the United States.



American Public Transportation Association. (n.d.). Public Transportation Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Conserves Energy: The Benefits of Public transportation.  Retrieved here.

Bazley, C., Blankenship, D., Vink, P. (2014). Survey Results for Rural Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) VelociRFTA and Future Human Factor Considerations. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. doi: 10.1177/1541931214581255.

Brown, Dennis. (2004). Public Transportation on the Move in Rural America. Washington, DC:  U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved here.

Criden, Madelaine. (2008). The Stranded Poor: Recognizing the Importance of Public Transportation for Low-Income Households. Washington, DC: National Association for State Community Service Programs. Retrieved here.

National Alliance for Public Transportation Advocates (NAPTA). (2016). Grows Communities: Communities Grow With Transit. Retrieved here.

Shoup, L., Homa, B. (2010). Principles for Improving Transportation Options in Rural and Small Town Communities. Washington, DC: Transportation for America. Retrieved here.

Thompson, Louis S. (2008, March 17). Public transportation in the U.S.: History and Current Status. Retrieved here.

TRIP. (2015 May). Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland. Washington, DC: TRIP. Retrieved here.

U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (US FHA). (2013). Highway Functional Classification Concepts, Criteria and Procedures. Retrieved here.

U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (US FHA). (2016). Planning for Transportation in Rural Areas: II. Our Rural transportation System. Retrieved here.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). (2016).  Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Retrieved here.

U.S. Office of Management and Budget. (2012). Revitalizing Rural America. Retrieved here.

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. (2016). Climate Change in Vermont: Emissions and Goals. Retrieved here.

Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTRANS). (2012). Vermont Public Transit Policy Plan. Retrieved here.

Young, Jay. (2015, March 2). Infrastructure: Mass Transit in 19th- and 20th-Century Urban America. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.28



Student Author: Christina Michele Fornaciari, University of Vermont (UVM)

Faculty Evaluator: Dr. Rob Williams, UVM

Christina Michele Fornaciari is a student at UVM, a grassroots campaign organizer, and a lover of good food and drink.

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