August 20, 2019

Transportation Innovations and Shared Mobility in Rural Communities

Mobile car charging

This is the last post in a five-part series on challenges and opportunity in rural communities.

Other posts in this series: 

Many rural residents experience mobility challenges. Rural residents have to travel longer distances to access education, health services, retail stores, and jobs, relative to those living in urban areas. Public transit options may be limited or nonexistent, with just 4% of rural residents using public transit in 2016. The quality of roads may also present hazards for residents who drive cars as roads in some areas are made of gravel or dirt. 

Enterprise’s partners are helping rural communities respond to these challenges. Last year, Enterprise provided grant awards to support rural and tribal non-profit organizations working to improve mobility in their communities. These Community Development Organizations (CDCs), Community Housing Development Organizations (CHDOs), and tribal organizations are helping low-income residents more easily access transportation opportunities.

This is the final blog in our series about opportunity challenges experienced by rural residents and innovative solutions being developed by our partners. Here, we highlight the mobility dimension of Enterprise’s Opportunity360 framework, which describes some challenges and opportunities of accessing transportation in rural communities.  

What is mobility?

Mobility refers to the ability of individuals or families to safely move themselves from their home to other places, like schools and health clinics. Residents who lack access to reliable forms of transportation are more likely to delay and forgo health appointments and preventative care. Rural children reliant upon school buses may also find it difficult to participate in after-school activities or access summer meal programs. 

Our Opportunity360 framework highlights the important role of mobility in residents’ lives, as measured at a census tract level through a composite index score. This score is calculated using five standardized variables: average travel time to work (in minutes); percent of workers who commute over an hour; percent of workers who commute to work using public transit; percent of workers who commute to work by walking; and percent of households for which no vehicles are available. 

Who is challenged to access transportation in rural communities?

While mobility challenges may be experienced by all types of rural residents, some may find it especially difficult to move from place to place. Without reliable options, rural seniors may experience a decline in their quality of life and well-being. Low-income residents may have a difficult time visiting social services and other government offices in person, which may be especially important for those without reliable broadband service.

Residents with disabilities and those who do not drive may be challenged to hire reliable, affordable drivers. Taxi services do not exist in many rural areas, can be expensive, and may not be accessible for people with disabilities. 

Where are rural residents especially challenged to access transportation?

A look at our Opportunity360 mobility index scores can help us see where rural residents may find it especially difficult to access reliable transportation. These scores represent nationwide percentile rankings of census tracts. A score of 50 means that a tract is in the 50th percentile—half of all tracts in the country have a higher score and half have a lower score.

A map of the country’s rural mobility index scores helps us see the location of tracts with lower scores. Looking at the map, the lightest green tracts make up large shares of rural tracts in Maine and New Hampshire in Northern New England. Large shares of these light green tracts are also seen across the Deep South and Appalachia in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. In 2017, about 10-29% of rural tracts in these states had mobility scores in the lowest quartile. 

However, the map does accurately reflect all the mobility challenges that may exist for low-income rural residents. Looking at the map, the darkest green tracts make up large shares of rural tracts across the Great Plains states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Montana as well as Alaska.

This pattern suggests that rural residents are easily able to access transportation which is true. However, much of this access is reliant upon the use of automobiles and other privately-owned vehicles with estimates showing that at least 95% of all workers in each of these states have access to one or more vehicles. Low-income rural residents, senior citizens, and people with disabilities may continue to experience challenges accessing transportation if they are unable to purchase, maintain, or operate an automobile.

How are partners innovating to help improve the mobility of rural residents?

In response to these challenges, Enterprise’s partners are working to develop and implement creative and innovative community-based solutions. These solutions are grounded in helping residents’ access affordable and reliable forms of transportation. 

In California, Enterprise’s partner Self-Help Enterprises is piloting a battery electric vehicle (BEV) rideshare program at several of its rural rental properties. This pilot program is studying resident utilization of the BEV service.

It will help the organization determine if BEV rideshare programs in rural areas can serve as effective and energy-efficient alternatives to more expensive options used by low-income individuals and families, such as dial-a-ride services and owning multiple vehicles. Data collected in the pilot may also help Self-Help Enterprises reduce its number of on-site parking spaces and retire expensive and inefficient dial-a-ride vehicles that usually run on diesel fuel. 

The Cheyenne River Housing Authority (CRHA) in South Dakota is using a small part of its funds from Enterprise to purchase transportation tokens for participants of their Homebuyer Readiness Program. This new initiative recruits interested homebuyers to participate in homebuyer education classes and supports their identifying, preparing, and submitting a mortgage application for a home in an upcoming CRHA housing development project. Funds used to purchase these tokens ensures all qualified members of the tribe can participate in the services and classes, even those who may not be able to drive or own a vehicle.

Conclusions

Across the country, many rural residents experience difficulties accessing affordable and reliable forms of transportation. With support from Enterprise, organizations across the United States are helping rural residents and families more safely move themselves from their home to other places, like schools and health clinics.

For more information about how Enterprise and its partners are helping support rural and tribal residents, visit Enterprise’s Rural and Native American Initiative.  
 

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