The more than 1 million rural American households without cars face unique barriers as alternate modes are not always accessible or affordable. Rural non-drivers—including older adults, low-income individuals, school-aged children, and people with disabilities—need independent mobility options to take advantage of social and economic opportunities.
Smart Growth America recently released a resource called “An Active Roadmap: Best Practices in Rural Mobility” that seeks to display the diversity of American rural communities and small towns to discuss rural transportation needs and challenges along with success stories from rural and small town communities across the country.
As noted in the report, rural communities are home to more people over the age of 65 than urban communities (see Figure 1), and studies show that the share of older adults may continue to grow in the next few decades. An analysis by the Urban Institute suggests that by 2040, 25% of households will be 65 years or older in rural communities.
One of the examples featured in the report is about the Downeaster train from Maine to Boston. As the report highlights:
Changes brought by COVID-19 have created opportunities for rural communities like those in Maine. Many young adults have moved to fewer urban parts of Maine because of the increased flexibility of remote work. For example, Saco, Maine, has a walkable downtown; is one of the fastest-growing communities in Maine; and saw an increase in its younger population during the initial years of the pandemic. The Downeaster train connects this growing population to cities like Boston for services and entertainment, which according to agency officials, is often cited as an attractive factor for younger people to live in parts of Maine. For older residents, Downeaster has a partnership with the American Cancer Society to offer $15 fares for people going from anywhere in Maine to Boston for medical appointments. The discounted fair applies to both the patient and a travel companion.
More information and data that may be of interest to small and rural communities working to become more age- and dementia friendly is available here in the report.