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5 CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION The transit industry has long recognized that transit agen- SYNTHESIS PURPOSE cies in rural America face unique challenges. Providers of rural transit operate with limited budgets, traverse large TCRP is conducting this synthesis to focus on transit's service areas with low densities, typically operate with less response to rural community transportation needs. The syn- sophisticated technology than their urban counterparts, may thesis reviews the state-of-the-practice, broadly defined for have inherited poor service designs, and must stretch to meet the synthesis as rural transportation service innovations. service demands with limited staffing. Compounding these challenges is the image problem associated with many rural Considerable thought was put into how innovations could transit systems--the service is for human service clients. be defined and categorized for rural transit. Building on pre- These challenges make innovation a necessity and a key ele- vious TCRP research, the synthesis defines innovation as ment of success. change for a useful purpose, including-- Rapid suburbanization of rural areas is a twofold problem New, different, and unique techniques, practices, for rural transit. What was at the beginning of the decade a or approaches (changes that improve a part of the rural area (and funded as such) in 10 years may become an organization); expanding suburb, where the population may double by the Techniques, practices, or approaches that are newly end of the decade. Funding, however, is maintained at a low applied to a rural transit setting, but not necessarily level. Furthermore, this suburb often becomes part of the unique; and urban area, and as we saw in one case study, the rural transit Modification of a practice that has been previously system was forced to withdraw from the service area. implemented, but with a nuance or twist that makes it different or innovative (1, p. 12). Rural transit service is a lifeline for many people residing in rural areas. Transit is called on to provide access to work, With a wide array of possible innovations that have been school, medical appointments, shopping, and other essential considered and implemented by rural transit agencies and services. Unique to rural transit, requests for service can intercity bus operators, the synthesis narrowed its focus of come from locations many miles apart at the same time. This innovations to the following six categories: places enormous pressure on the service as needs for transit service expand. 1. Innovative agency characteristics; Many rural transit agencies are changing and innovating 2. Service responses to changing demographics; to improve and meet the increasing demands for their ser- vice. Although some thrive in this environment, other transit 3. Involvement in the transportation planning process; agencies are not able to make such changes. This synthesis revealed that the successful systems have certain character- 4. Alternative service modes; istics related to their willingness and ability to change as needed to improve, innovate, and try something new. Indeed, 5. Outreach, education, and training; and the ability to change in itself is innovative. 6. Leveraging funding opportunities. The case studies in this synthesis highlight four rural transit agencies that have innovative aspects, and all have Innovations relating to coordination and technology were reinvented themselves, which is perhaps their greatest and purposefully not included in the review, as they have been most important innovation. The fifth case study is a state studied and reported on elsewhere. The reader can view a agency with a history of innovation in a number of areas. number of TCRP reports on coordination, including TCRP