February 16, 2011

Report: Rural access to intercity transportation declines

As many as 3.5 million rural residents lost access to scheduled intercity transportation between 2005 and 2010, dropping the percent of rural residents with access to intercity air, bus, ferry or rail transportation to 89 percent, according to a new report from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). Five years ago, BTS calculated that 93 percent of rural residents had access to intercity transportation.

BTS, a part of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, reported that 8.9 million rural residents lacked access to intercity transportation in 2010, up from 5.4 million in 2005. Of the 71.7 million rural residents retain­ing access in 2010, 3.7 million lost access to more than one intercity transportation mode during those five years.

The report, “The U.S. Rural Population and Scheduled Intercity Transportation in 2010: A Five-Year Decline in Transportation Access,” draws numbers from the BTS Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database. BTS defined access to transportation as living within 25 miles from a non- or small-hub airport, bus station, ferry terminal or rail station providing intercity service, and as 75 miles from a medium- or large-hub airport.

BTS noted significant changes to several modes in the five years from 2005 to 2010. Among the changes were bus service reductions made by Greyhound Lines and the suspension of the New Orleans – Jacksonville route previously provided by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited.

According to BTS, intercity bus transportation provided access to 78 percent of rural residents in 2010, more than any other mode, but was down from 89 percent in 2005. Air service coverage remained unchanged from 2005 to 2010 at 72 percent, while intercity rail access declined from 42 percent to 40 percent of the rural population.

All rural residents in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island had access to at least one intercity public transportation mode in 2010, as they did in 2005. North Dakota had the lowest percentage of rural residents with access to intercity transportation; 52 percent had access to at least one mode in 2010, down from 59 percent in 2005.

Alabama faced the largest decline between 2005 and 2010 in the number of rural residents with intercity transportation access. In 2005, 94 percent of rural Alabama residents had transportation access. With almost 700,000 rural Alabama residents losing access, only 65 percent had coverage in 2010.

Nationally, rural residents had the following access to intercity transportation in 2010: One mode only, 15.7 million; two modes, 29.1 million only; three modes, 25.3 million; four modes, 1.6 million; no access, 8.9 million.

The report provides more detail on rural coverage by mode, rural coverage by state, and rural coverage by mode and state. The BTS Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database is a nationwide data table of passenger transportation terminals, with data on the availability of connections among the various scheduled public transportation modes at each facility. BTS plans a companion report that will look at changes in rural transportation due to population changes reported in the 2009 American Community Survey.

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