In many rural communities, getting from one location to another without having a vehicle is a really big deal, and getting everything from food to medicine can be a trial in itself. With low population densities and the tendency for small towns to have some distance between them, rural areas aren't very conducive to the types of transit operations present in cities. However, there is a very real need for new rural transit options, and the need for existing transportation systems in rural areas to step up their game to meet the needs of more riders.
Here are a few approaches to improving rural transit operations:
Build it up: Adding bike and pedestrian infrastructure at bus or train stops, and outfitting vehicles with bike carriers, is one way to increase transit access for those in rural areas. Integrating secure bike storage racks at transit locations, connecting transit locations with bike paths and walking routes, and making it easier to take bikes along can not only improve visibility and safety, but could also make it that last-mile and first-mile of the journey easier.
Find underwriting: Seek out grants or other funding from the Federal Transit Administration as a way to help increase local access to capital and/or planning & operating assistance for rural public transportation services. This could take the form of increasing route frequencies or the number of routes, operating for longer hours, or hiring a paratransit company to provide for increased dial-a-ride services in the community, or even starting up a new service.
Get found: Even though rural areas may be lacking in some of the more futuristic aspects of modern living, being connected via the internet isn't always one of them. Mobile devices are often the tool of choice for searching out information in both the city and the country, so increasing the web presence of transit options is key. Having a mobile-friendly website with clear contact info and route details, can make it easier for today's riders to find, and providing printed materials, including schedules, prices, and routes, to municipal agencies, churches, and community organizations will help those without a digital device.
Make it obvious: Posting clear and accurate signage for each transit stop, as well as having up-to-date route information and contact info at each location, can help increase visibility, and having a route map will help riders navigate their journey. A well-lit location can also go a long way toward not only being noticed, but also toward helping riders feeling like it is a safe and appealing option.
Learn from others: Organizations such as the National Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP) (a Federal Transit Administration program, which provides myriad resources, toolkits, training, and more, can be an invaluable reference in both the planning stages of a new or expanded service, as well during its operation. Another good resource is Transit Planning for All, which is "developing, testing, and demonstrating ways to empower people with disabilities and older adults to be actively involved in designing and implementing coordinated transportation systems."
Partner up: Some aspects of rural transit operations can be improved through community partnerships, whether it's by connecting with the local volunteer community to help meet specific needs of an individual or group, or by partnering with a local arts organization for a beautification project. Churches, civic organizations, and other community groups may be a good source for input and feedback on current transit options, or could serve as 'sponsors' of specific projects that enhance the transit experience, such as adding flowerboxes or art to bus stops or transit hubs.
For many rural residents, especially the elderly and the disabled, transportation to and from basic errands, not to mention crucial ones such as medical appointments, can be a big challenge, so improving the local public transit options for these residents actually means increasing their quality of life.