Rural mobility is largely overlooked.
Rural mobility is largely overlooked.
( Source: ZU photography | / Unsplash)

BESIDE CITIES Rural mobility require community-centric solutions

Editor: Florian Richert

Rural transport is frequently overlooked in mobility research and discussions for the future. What’s clear is that rural towns and cities require solutions which represent the specifics of the local community and pave the way for future technology and generations.

Search for mobility news and trends and you’ll be confronted with thousands of posts and articles where the word mobility is coupled with urban. The reality is that while much is spoken about the needs of future urban dwellers and visitors, those in rural areas rarely get mentioned. It’s easy to eschew rural areas as vast, and inhabited by staunch car drivers, and thus unsuited for commercially successful on-demand transport and other solutions. But the reality is much more complex and therefore requires local, location specific initiatives that are as much about the needs of local residents as the challenges of local rural infrastructure and wider funding sources.

Rural areas differ vastly

Rural areas can mean many different things. For example, the UK defines rural areas as those areas that surround settlements of over 10,000 people. In England, these areas account for 85 % of the land area and 18 % (9.3 million) of the population. In Europe they are increasingly characterised by an ageing population, for many of whom driving is not an option, as younger people migrate to cities in search of work and education.

Many rural areas are located a sufficient distance to larger cities and are thus classified as commuter belts, close enough for residents to travel to cities daily for work. Others may host large manufacturing enterprises or be a mecca of cultural tourism. But most suffer from the sparsity of population, dispersed demands and longer travel distances to access facilities and services. Rural towns may lack footpaths and appropriate street lights or suffer from severe morning traffic jams as commuter cities, or sound pollution caused by noisy freight vehicles.

Further, rural governments - particularly in the remote US - may lack appropriate skilled personnel. There may be no strategic leadership or vision for rural public transport. This leads locals dependent on what exists rather than what could be, and the assumption of a car centric rural culture offers little impetus for change. Skilled staff are necessary to apply for smart city grants or other funding or to forge partnerships with startups, SMEs and large enterprises to deploy innovative solutions. Vast countries like Australia, remain carcentric for many in that government attention is focused on developing high speed rail solutions between rural areas and lack the prioritisation of local transport. Further, transport needs to exist not only for necessary trips such as medical appointments and shopping but also within the privileges of travel for any reason enjoyed by those in rural cities. cities, eschewing making local transport a priority. What’s clear is that flexible approaches, using a range of different service models and types are necessary
Fortunately a number of innovative solutions exist which offer tangible results as well as idea generation for future generations.

Integration of transport services

In Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany and other european cities, many benefits are made possible by coordinating public transport through a regional or state transport authority. These include timetables synchronized to ensure that bus and train timetables connect. Integrated fares enable passengers to just buy one ticket or use the same app for all their purchases.

Demand responsive transport

In the UK and a number of European cities, public-private partnerships such as bookable shared taxi buses run on bus routes in the evenings and at weekends. This avoids buses running empty – the taxi-buses only operate if someone has phoned to request them. The money saved can be used to provide services till late at night, at times when no conventional bus service would be viable
An example is ArrivaClick in the UK, an on-demand minibus service that transports passengers heading in the same direction. Bookings and payments are made via an app.

Green Raitors

Huron, California, is an agrarian, predominantly Latino community located 50 miles outside of Fresno. A few years ago the ‘indigenous Uber’ that has existed for decades was formalised. A raiteros system is an informal ridesharing service that consists of volunteer drivers, often retired or semi-retired neighbors, who offer rides to people who lack auto or other mobility options.

In December 2018, a local nonprofit launched the Green Raiteros program, a volunteer transportation organization (VTO) that leveraged its established network of raiteros drivers but operated in a more formalized manner. Using funds from a legal settlement, this nonprofit purchased two electric cars for its volunteer drivers, as well as a garage and an office for operations. EVgo, a Los Angeles-based network of charging stations for electric vehicles, supported the program by installing charging stations in both Huron and Fresno.

East Sussex challenge: Innovation for the future

East Sussex challenge was a pocket by MA students on the Intelligent Mobility Programme at the Royal College of Art, supported by the RAC Foundation, the Royal Automobile Club and Intelligent Mobility Design Centre. Students worked with the community of Wadhurst, located in the High Weald in East Sussex, to develop a diverse range of mobility solutions in response to the physical geography and restrictions that can be found in rural towns and villages across the United Kingdom.

The students’ community consultations revealed that residents want to reduce congestion and increase parking. They want to upgrade pavements, improve crossing points and reduce traffic speed. They also wanted better o!-road cycle and footpaths. Key economic issues included the sustainability of the high street; support for developing small businesses including working from home, reduction of congestion, increased parking to encourage shopping, and improvements to broadband and public transport. Some of the ideas created by the students included:

A narrow bus for narrow rural roads.
A narrow bus for narrow rural roads.
(Source: RAC Foundation)


The streets of Wadhurst long pre-date the arrival of the modern motorcar or bus. Local citizens expressed concern about the impact of modern motor vehicles simply in terms of the amount of road space they take up, the result being: “Having to leap into the hedge as cars use the lanes as shortcuts to avoid the centre of the village which is invariably congested.”

JUSTABUS is an autonomous bus half the width of a regular car, which gives more space to cyclists and pedestrians. It also has the capacity to include an attendant to help elderly residents to embark and disembark.

Lighting the footway, not the sky - Star Road

Residents have raised health and safety concerns about the areas of the town with no streetlights. Star Road is an interactive lighting system that allows people to get around town safely without raising light pollution levels. Pebble-shaped light-emitting modules are installed onto the pavements. These modules are pressure-sensitive and hence will only be activated when required.

Carchitecture envisioning AVs.
Carchitecture envisioning AVs.
(Source: RAC Foundation)


Carchitecture combines smart mobility and coworking office architecture repurposing dormant vehicles used by London commuters parked at the station from mere mobility devices to something that can create temporary shared spaces, using two or more vehicles; helping villagers to create on-demand spaces. These are able to support a variety of purposes such as small pop up markets, cafes, meeting or workspaces, crèches and much more, with the potential of creating local jobs and encouraging local businesses. The vehicles can be configured linearly or radially to form seamless interior spaces that range from small to large.