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1 Research Objective The overall objective of this study has been to identify and evaluate practices used by state departments of transportation (DOTs), rural regional planning agencies, and transit providers to plan and provide for rural regional mobilityâfocusing on policies and programs that support services that can meet the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) definition of âpublic transporta- tionâ or the FTA definition of âintercity bus transportation.â The initial focus was on practices that effectively blend these two modes and could be supported with rural transit funding pro- vided under the FTA Section 5311 rural transit program or the Section 5311(f) rural intercity bus program. The study also sought to identify examples of rural regional services that address human service transportation needs as well as general public services. The study focuses not just on regional services, but also on the role of state transit program policies and regional planning agencies in the development of rural regional services. Rural Regional Defined Based on this research objective, the focus of this study is on services that fall in the middle ground between intercity bus service and rural public transportation. The FTA guidance defines intercity bus service as âregularly scheduled bus service for the general public that operates with limited stops over fixed routes connecting two or more urban areas not in close proximity, that has the capacity for transporting baggage carried by passengers, and that makes meaning- ful connections with scheduled intercity bus service to more distant points, if such service is available.â Rural public transportation is defined as: âSurface transportation by conveyance that provides regular and continuing general or special transportation to the public, but does not include school bus, charter, or intercity bus transportationâ that is provided in a ânon- urbanized area which includes rural areas and urban areas under 50,000 in population not included in an urbanized area.â The preliminary scope suggests that rural regional mobility is typically âintra-state, cross- county transportationâ and would include, for example, trips to a regional medical center (e.g., a Veterans Administration Medical Center) for non-emergency services, to a community college, or to access other transportation modes for longer distance travel (e.g., to an intercity bus ter- minal or airport). The scope for this study noted that rural regional services fall in the gray area between other types of rural transportation services. Figure 1â1 presents a Venn diagram depicting the relationship between rural regional, intercity bus, local transit, and human service transportation. Rural regional services overlap each mode of transit, but there is a substantial space that is uniquely rural regional. C H A P T E R 1 Rural Regional Defined
2 Best Practices in Rural Regional Mobility Building on the definitions of both rural public transportation and intercity bus service, rural regional mobility service, also referred to as rural regional transit, is defined as one that provides transportation for the general public from a rural area across the county, or other jurisdictional boundaries,1 to serve a destination that has services (e.g., medical, educational, employment, retail, government) not available in the rural area. Often the destination of such services is a larger, more urban location, which we are calling a regional activity center, as a general term for a place that offers services needed but not available in more rural trip origin areas. Rural regional mobility service may be supported with funds from FTA Section 5311, Section 5311(f), and Sec- tion 5311(c) and may be supplemented with other federal, state, or local funds and passenger fares. Table 1â1 presents a classification of services that contribute to rural regional mobility. The primary focus of this study is on regional services described in the bottom two rows. The need for a distinction between rural regional mobility services and intercity services lies in the Section 5311(f) requirement for a meaningful connection to the national intercity bus network. The FTA defines meaningful connection in terms of schedule coordination and shared stop locations with the national network. Developing regional services that can be funded with Section 5311(f) depends on being able to make a meaningful connection. In many cases the required schedule makes using the service for commuting, medical trips, or community college classes impossible. The type of morning-in, evening-out schedule needed to address trip needs will rarely coincide with the schedule needed to make a meaningful connection to the national intercity bus network. Optimal regional service would meet both needs, and is theoretically possible but likely to be rare. For purposes of this study, the focus is on regional services that address the kinds of trips than can be made in a day, while considering the possibilities for also meeting intercity needs (and using intercity funding). The intercity program may well be a tool in the toolbox used to create regional services, but the focus of this study is on services that meet a different distinct need (even if they can sometimes be designed to qualify as intercity services). A key aspect of this definition is that it involves service open to the general public, rather than dedicated human service transportation (such as Medicaid Non-Emergency Medical Figure 1â1. Rural regional mobility relationships. Human Service Transportation Intercity Bus Rural Regional Services Local Public Transit
Rural Regional Defined 3 Transportation [NEMT]). Dedicated services may be required to meet client needs, but often they are provided because there is no public transit service that makes regional trips. Our focus is on identifying those services and determining how they can be developed elsewhere. It is anticipated that human service agency trips could be provided through agency payment of a fare or participation in funding. Human service trips are not excluded, but we do not see the study as focusing on transportation exclusively provided to client groups that have eligibility requirements based on trip purpose, age, or income. While it is likely that in many places there is regional transportation provided for NEMT, this study does not focus on specialized or dedi- cated NEMT service but on services open to the general public that could be used by NEMT clients among others. In this case, the general definition of rural regional mobility services includes transit services with the following characteristics: â¢ Scheduled service, â¢ Service open to the general public (though they may also carry agency clients), â¢ Service operated on longer routes that cross county lines, â¢ Service connecting non-urbanized areas (places with populations under 50,000) to each other and to urbanized areas (over 50,000 in population), and â¢ Service scheduled to permit a round trip within a day, allowing users to spend several hours at their destination. Excluded from the scope of this study are demand response services, particularly those that have client eligibility requirements, even if they cross city- or county-jurisdictional boundaries. Table 1â1. Classification of transportation services that contribute to rural regional mobility. Service Description Funding Source Operator Example Intercity Bus Service Intercity bus service connects rural communities to the national intercity bus network for travel to more distant points. Routes on these corridors have very limited frequencies (often one trip in each direction per day), and operate every day of the week (or if not every day, at least on the peak intercity travel days). Fares 5311(f) Private Typically, a major national intercity carrier, such as Greyhound, provides intercity bus services. On Demand Typically in rural areas where distances and frequency will not support fixed routes. Riders schedule rides to and from destinations. Sometimes provided by volunteers or human service agencies. 5311 5311(f) Fares Private Public Public agency/transit providers or private Van rides to medical centers and personal business. Regional Bus Services Routes on regional bus corridors have moderate frequency (often several trips in each direction per day), and operate at least every weekday if not every day of the week. These routes allow passengers to complete a round trip in a day. Public transit operators typically provide these services, though they may be operated under contract by private providers or agencies. This service can be scheduled to meet commuter and student needs. 5311 Fares Public agency/transit providers, could also be private for-profit or non-profit Fixed route services that cross county lines, a route from a small town through three counties to serve commuters, students, and medical trips. Other Essential Regional Services Primarily operating on a fixed route and fixed schedule for traveling from rural to urban areas. These have flexible routing at the end. They are designed to serve areas within 200 miles of a regional service center (3.5 hour drive time), allowing for a same day trip with 4 to 5 hours to conduct business. 5311 Medicaid Human Services Non-emergency medical, shopping, personal business.
4 Best Practices in Rural Regional Mobility Long distance Medicaid client trips are an important part of the overall need for regional public transportation, however the focus here is on services open to the general public (which could be used by Medicaid clients) rather than on specialized services. Why Focus on Rural Regional? Statewide transit needs studies, local public transportation and human service transportation coordination plans, and the consultation process required by the FTA for the Section 5311(f) rural intercity program have all identified needs for regional transit services. Need Has Existed for a Long Time The need for these trips has existed for a long time, and was once met by the private for- profit intercity bus companies. As a result of federal and state regulations, these intercity bus companies cross-subsidized rural and regional services with more profitable interstate services and charter business. When ridership declined, the bus industry began reducing the frequency and coverage of rural routes. By the time many human service and community action programs came into being during the 1960s and 1970s, these programs found that they needed to provide transportation to their clients to allow them to access program services. These services formed the basis of todayâs rural public and coordinated human service transportation programs. The role of intercity bus firms in providing regional trips from rural areas declined significantly fol- lowing deregulation of the intercity bus industry in 1982, because these firms could abandon unprofitable rural service. The reduction in rural services has continued since that time and, by 2010, the scheduled intercity bus industry served approximately 2,3402 places, compared with more than 15,0003 in 1982. During this period the rural public transportation industry developed, and at this point there are 1,357 Section 5311 subrecipients providing transportation in rural areas.4 With limited fund- ing, often with eligibility requirements for potential users, rural transit operators focused on the most critical trips by the most transportation disadvantaged populations: medical trips by low-income persons, trips by seniors to nutrition sites and senior centers, and trips by persons with disabilities. For the most part, needs were local in nature. States distributed funding to local jurisdictions, and local governments provided the required match. The organizations focused on providing local services, not services outside city or county boundaries. Need for Rural Regional Public Transportation Services The need for regional trips initially became apparent when persons needing specialized med- ical services provided only at major medical centers had to travel outside jurisdictional bound- aries to obtain these services. The Medicaid program was required to provide longer distance, regional trips for Medicaid-eligible persons who did not have their own transportation. NEMT for Medicaid clients continues to be a major element of the need for regional transportation services from rural areas. Transportation in these areas has also become necessary for the fol- lowing types of trips: â¢ EmploymentâCommuter transportation from rural areas to employment outside the immediate area (restructuring of manufacturing due to automation, globalization, and consolidation). â¢ EducationâAccess to regional community colleges, training programs, state colleges, and universities. The mean distance from a studentâs home to college is 31 miles to public 2-year schools, and 82 miles to public 4-year schools.5 These are regional trips.
Rural Regional Defined 5 â¢ MedicalâIn addition to Medicaid, there are other riders who need to access specialized ser- vices in regional centers. Changes in health care funding have combined with difficulties in staffing rural medical centers. From 2010 to 2014, 47 rural hospitals ceased providing inpatient servicesâ26 closed entirely and 21 continued to provide some health care services.6 Analysis of the impacts of closures reveals that âSurvey respondents from the markets of the closed hospitals perceived increased travel distances to health care as a stressor and a risk to the health of those communities.â 6 â¢ ShoppingâBig-box stores replaced many small-town retail businesses and are now eliminat- ing their smaller rural stores and concentrating operations in regional supercenters. â¢ Social and recreationalâLoss of intercity service means social and recreational trips need to be addressed by rural regional, including visits to family (for occasions), friends, parks, and recreation sites. Programs that are funding or providing local transit say they are unable to address needs, and intercity bus services provided by the market or funded by Section 5311(f) often do not meet these needs because they are scheduled to provide connections between major cities. Sec- tion 5311(f) funding requires that services provide a meaningful connection with the national intercity bus network wherever possible. In many cases, resulting services are unable to address needs because meaningful connections may not provide schedules useful for regional trips. The rural public transportation community has begun to deal with the need to provide regional trips, as will be evident from the case studies and analysis in this research report. Five Myths about Rural Regional Transit Services7 This study reveals that there are a number of myths about rural services that can be put to rest. It Is Not Allowed Many rural transit operators believe or assume that some regulation prohibits them from pro- viding trips that cross jurisdictional boundaries. In some cases this assumption appears to arise from the fact that states allocate federal funding to jurisdictions, and that those jurisdictions provide the local match. However, federal programs do not restrict services to particular jurisdic- tions. Similarly, there is generally no state funding or administrative restriction preventing transit operators from creating regional routes. Some states have requirements in their state transit pro- gram authorizing legislation that requires local transit systems to notify jurisdictions outside their designated service area if they intend to provide service into that jurisdiction. For example, Ohio requires transit authorities seeking to provide transit service into a political jurisdiction outside the boundaries of the authority to provide prior notice to the legislative authority of that political jurisdiction which then has 30 days to comment. Some states provide statutory tools that allow local governments to create regional transit orga- nizations while others have legislation creating regional transit entities as a basis for funding. Even in these cases, allowing or supporting regional organizations may not necessarily result in rural regional services, and states may have to support the development of regional services through policy actions such as incentives. Any restriction on implementing regional services is likely to be locally imposed. Local gov- ernments providing match for federal and state funds may explicitly or implicitly provide the match with restrictions on service to points outside jurisdictional boundaries. There may be concern about negative publicity if it appears that one jurisdiction is subsidizing residents of another, or if it is perceived that residents are using services to support the economy of another jurisdiction. It is often the case that such services enable employees to bring paychecks to their
6 Best Practices in Rural Regional Mobility home jurisdiction, or enable residents to reach services unavailable locally, and the process of developing regional services must address these political concerns. The major exception to the myth is in cases where local funding is provided by a local tax, and language governing the tax prevents any of it from being used on services outside the jurisdiction. It may mean that regional services require a different source of local match. There Is No Need As will be seen in the case studies, the need for regional services can become evident in a num- ber of ways. Statewide studies conducted by state DOTs often include public surveys or surveys of transit users and frequently the need for regional services is documented, along with other transit needs. For example, in the recent Ohio statewide transit needs study, general public sur- veys identified regional services as one of the top three priorities. It was also one of the top three priorities for rural respondents, occasional transit riders, and non-riders.8 In many other cases, the need for regional services is identified from local human service public transportation coordination plans required by FTA under Section 5310. Sometimes the need for regional service is evident because of changes in a community, such as a plant closing locally while jobs are available in another plant in a different county. Other types of local studies or efforts may identify a need for rural regional transit services. For example, an economic devel- opment study may identify a need for regional services to a nearby employment center, repre- sentatives of a regional hospital may request regional service for patients and employees as part of a regional health planning process, or representatives of a community college may express a need for regional transit service to serve students as part of an effort to improve training. Regional planning organizations may be key players in identifying needs and then developing rural regional service plans and funding. Implementation of rural regional services will reflect local prioritization of regional needs versus local needs, but many places are finding that there are still needs to be met. There Is No Funding The case studies in this research report found that regional services are being operated using a variety of funding sources. These include the expected FTA Section 5311 rural funds, Sec- tion 5311(f) rural intercity funding, Section 5311(f) in-kind match from connecting unsubsi- dized intercity services, federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) funding, economic development funding, energy funding, tribal transit funding, state funding for match, state incentive funding for regional services, funding for Medicaid non-emergency transportation, and other local sponsors. In most cases, the operation of regional services is a creative combination of funding from different sources. In a number of cases, state funding or state policies in providing federal funding played a significant role in the ability to use funds for regional services. It Is Not Productive Evaluation of rural regional services needs to take into account the fact that most services are long-distance with few stops. In comparison with local services, they will have few boardings per mile or per hour. A more appropriate measure is the number of boardings per vehicle trip, which is more likely to reflect that a vehicle traveling a long distance with a substantial load of passengers is being productive. In the case studies that were able to provide productivity data, services appear to be comparable with more local rural services even using the same measure- ment factors. In most cases, rural regional routes had acceptable ridership to start with and
Rural Regional Defined 7 have seen increasing demand over time. In some cases, fine-tuning of schedules and routes has resulted in improved ridership. It Requires a Regional Organization While some states are pursuing initiatives intended to create rural regional transit organiza- tions, the situation described in a number of the case studies shows that neighboring organiza- tions jointly create regional services, or local systems or entities see a regional need for their own citizens and take the initiative to offer service. Regional organizations may make it easier to overcome jurisdictional boundaries and develop coalitions needed to design and support such services. Organizations may be regional planning organizations, transit regions defined by state administrative requirements, regional private non-profits, or public joint powers authori- ties (JPAs). There is no single model that is most appropriate. The common element in terms of organization is that there are some persons or groups that have become the local champion and have put in the dedication and effort required to design services, find funding, and imple- ment service. Organization of This Research Report This research report presents the results of an effort to identify states with high levels of rural regional mobility, and within them to identify state transit program policies or programs that have been designed to support regional services. Chapter 1 provides an introduction and defini- tion of rural regional transit services. It also identifies both state programs supportive of rural regional services and local examples that could be used as case studies. Chapter 2 is a literature review. A survey of state transit agencies was conducted asking states to identify themselves as having addressed this need in some way, and to identify examples as potential case study sites. Chapter 3 presents the process the study team used to identify 12 case studies, which include state programs or policies designed to support or encourage rural regional services and examples of services. Chapter 4 presents the case studies, describing examples of state policies, organizational structures, funding sources, and service designs. The case studies are used as a basis for the Toolkit presented in Chapter 5. Chapter 6 presents a checklist for developing a rural regional route.