The need for mass transit does not end at the city limits. However, rural public transport is often limited and runs infrequently.
Rural public transport provision varies greatly around the world. It can fluctuate from no service at all via an infrequent bus service which stops at the first sign of inclement weather to a formal train timetable which is the lifeline of the communities it serves. Sometimes it is targeted at those who have no alternative means of transportation. In other cases, it is an attempt to provide a service which is not as convenient as it could be. Having only used city mass transit myself, I asked a number of friends, penpals, fellow writers and online contacts for their experiences of rural services.
American Rural Transportation
In most of the United States, it seems as if rural transport usually revolves around the bus services. Country dwellers tell of lifts to the bus stop, from where 20+ mile journeys to the nearest large town are routine. The bus system in some areas is arranged linearly through the center of each county, so transport of one sort or another is still a necessity to reach the bus services. As one user put it, “It’s rural, so you still need a ride to the bus, but it gets people places.”
In rural New York state, the metro commuter rail lines are never too far away. The service extends two hours out from the city and provides a means of using mass transport to reach New York’s John F Kennedy airport from the country. It takes the same length of time as driving and from hearsay, is less stressful for those arriving on overnight international flights. From La Guardia, things are not so easy; one contact, a travel writer who lived at one time 18 miles from the airport, reports that the journey home by public transport would take her three hours even with little luggage. The bus services at times can be infrequent, and some routes are confusing, according to another rural dweller. Apparently the services do an average job of accessing the commuter train stations, however. This indicates that the majority of journeys in such areas will be at the beginning and end of the day.
Also, for the elderly and disabled, things can be more challenging. Many areas operate a special Dial-A-Ride style service, accessible with a doctor’s note, but this usually only runs to a limited schedule and can take nearly two hours to get somewhere that is a 25 minute car ride away, provided a helpful neighbour or relative is on hand to make the journey.
In the Hudson Valley area, according to one comment, “If you don’t have a car here…you ride your bike, your horse…or in your neighbor’s passenger seat!”
My Ohio-based friends, meanwhile, tell me that public transportation simply does not exist in rural areas of the state. One affirms, “There is a county-wide transit authority that is provided for people who are legally unable to drive because of health reasons. Other than that, everyone drives or rides farm equipment.”
Northern Canada has Public Transport by Air
In remote Northern Canadian and American locations, public transport can be provided by air. The documentary series Ice Pilots NWT (called simply Ice Pilots in England) follows a firm based in Yellowknife, NWT which uses vintage aircraft to fly supplies and passengers around the remote outposts of Northern Canada. When I visited Churchill, Manitoba, in the 1990s, the tour guide told me that there was no road in and that either an overnight train or flying from Winnipeg via Gillam hydro station were the only methods of access for tourists, scientists, mail, food and general supplies.
The Australian Take on Mass Transit
Strangely enough for a country which has the futuristic O-Bahn, the sentiment regarding a lack of transportation is echoed by one of my Australian friends, who lives around 25 miles to the east of Adelaide, South Australia. She too suggests that the only service worthy of the name ‘public transport’ is Dial-A-Ride in nature. She goes on to explain, “It is a bus but when you want to go somewhere you call the bus company and the bus comes (eventually) and takes you where you want to go… almost door to door. More like a cab/taxi service than a bus service but much, much, cheaper.” It runs a limited timetable from 9am to 3pm and, as it is targeted at the elderly who would otherwise be housebound, is not suitable as a commuter service.
Another Australian friend, who lives an hour outside of Sydney, says that the central area of the city is well served, but that standards and frequency of services deteriorate the farther the location from the Central Business District (or CBD, as it is known). She commutes into the city and confirms that, “Normally peak hour trains and buses are busy but during the middle of the day and in the evening things are pretty quiet. The bus service isn’t great.
The inner city bus service is ok but outside of the city the private bus company services are often expensive and so infrequent they are practically useless.” Her residential district is about an hour from the CBD and her train services run every 30 minutes. A seasoned world traveller, she compares the Sydney public transport system unfavourably with London, suggesting that payment and ticketing systems in England are superior and that the Australian state’s government needs to invest in order to keep pace with urban development. Sydney is by no means alone in this situation: it is a complaint echoed by many of those interviewed about their particular area.
With the cost of car insurance and petrol prices rising, public transport is an increasingly attractive option when provided at a level which potential users find convenient and cost-effective. Service frequencies ideally should mirror the convenience of being able to drive somewhere in a privately owned car, without the added worry and expense of having to find a parking space on arrival. To date, very few mass transit authorities, city or rural, have managed successfully to pull off the tricky balancing act of providing this level of service whilst still making a profit to pay for continuing improvements.