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Rural Accessibility




9.1 The analysis above has identified both qualitative and quantitative approaches for assessing rural accessibility needs and problems. The choice of appraisal technique for any individual decision needs to be of an accuracy appropriate to the particular situation with the resources devoted to the analysis being commensurate with the scale of the problem.

9.2 In developing an appraisal framework which will allow public agencies and others to improve accessibility for rural dwellers it is important to:

  • Clarify the main types of decision which affect rural accessibility for each group in society.
  • Identify practical analytical tools for assessing rural accessibility
  • Build from current best practice in quantitative and qualitative analysis.

9.3 It needs to be recognised that people adapt their lifestyles to take account of the opportunities available to them. The surveys demonstrate that people are making explicit trade-offs between accessibility and the many other factors which affect their quality of life. Solutions need to work within what are viewed as community norms and help to overcome rather than support a dependency culture. For example the surveys identified that many elderly people choose to move into larger villages or towns to improve their accessibility as they became less mobile. Also various people described how they had moved house to accommodate their travel to work arrangements better. The transport solutions which work with communities in delivering improvements for those that have the most limited choices therefore make the greatest contribution to improving rural accessibility.

9.4 In each of the case study areas the fragility of rural economies was demonstrated, including the need for transport solutions to support essential and developing economic activity. For the commuter rural areas, there were significant impacts from transport policies in the nearby cities on economic development in the rural area. This emphasises that individual scheme appraisal needs to work within a coherent transport strategy for the area which sets out clearly the overall approach to improving accessibility.

9.5 For some people, improving accessibility provides opportunities, such as to travel further to work, but for other people there are threats, such as village shops being opened up to more competition. It was seen that free buses provided by supermarkets to nearby towns could provide improved accessibility in the short term but that the associated closure of local stores and the lack of guarantee that free buses would continue indefinitely could reduce accessibility in the longer term.

9.6 The framework for considering how to improve rural accessibility therefore needs to take account of the policy context, private market processes and the travel needs of communities.

Appraisal Framework

9.7 The Scottish Executive Rural Community Transport best practice guide and the draft Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance provide detailed guidance on promoting and appraising various transport projects. Within both documents there is reference to the need for accessibility issues to be considered to evaluate and justify expenditure decisions. However detailed advice is needed on practical techniques at each stage of the project development.

9.8 Given the wide range of options for accessibility analysis, and the broad scope of the appraisal needs, it is important for all appraisal decisions to define problems clearly, gather the required supporting information and involve relevant stakeholders. Figure 29 suggests a structure for appraisal which recognises that decision making for some projects may involve public agencies, transport operators, community groups, and potential users.


Figure 29 - Framework for Accessibility Analysis

9.9 Accessibility considerations are of assistance in defining and understanding problems, identifying practical solutions and delivering schemes which will be of real benefit.

9.10 Table 19 identifies four of the main stakeholders, the decisions which they need to make, and the approach to accessibility analysis which is likely to be most useful. Although there are other important stakeholders such as Health Authorities, rural transport strategies are likely to be led by one of these four groups. As discussed in Chapter 2, accessibility is measured either in terms of the opportunity available (e.g. number of shops) or the value delivered (i.e. s or minutes saved), and the analysis can be at any level of complexity from a simple qualitative assessment to highly complex quantitative analysis. In the table an indication of the approach to analysis which would be most useful is given although in practice each situation will have its own specific requirements which should be considered.

Table 19 - Uses of Accessibility Analysis




Scottish Executive

Assessing overall levels of spend and distribution of resources for supporting rural transport and for use in rural policy.

Opportunity measures

  • Car and non car population catchments for major hospitals.
  • Access to employment opportunities by rural population sector.
  • Average levels of access to local services including shops, chemists, GPs etc.

Value measures

  • Travel times and costs to major cities/regional centres.

Setting national targets for improving rural accessibility and monitoring progress against targets.

As above but setting realistic targets for improvement in defined indicators.

Considering relative importance of transport funding when compared with other policy options to improve rural accessibility.

Opportunity measures

  • Accessibility of post offices
  • Access to GPs, health centres and hospitals.

Value measures

  • School transport costs

Local authorities

Determining funding levels for local subsidised services.

Opportunity measures

  • Access to employment
  • Access to local services such as shops, libraries, GPs etc
  • Access of regional centres including hospitals.

Value measures

  • Travel times and costs to regional centres.

Identification of gaps in transport provision and unmet needs

Value measures

  • Non car time and cost indices factored by the affected population.

Testing alternative approaches to improve accessibility

As above but testing sensitivity of accessibility measures to the proposed change.

Ensuring fair distribution of transport provision

As above but comparing absolute levels of opportunity and impacts of changes by population sector and location.

Transport operators

Assessing the potential for growth in passenger numbers

Opportunity measures

  • Population catchments by service frequency

Scheme delivery

Value measures

  • Travel time analysis to inform publicity.

Community groups

Analysis of local need as part of the development of funding bids and proposals.

Opportunity measures

  • Non car access to work, shopping, and health by settlement.

Value measures

  • Travel times to regional centres and hospitals.

9.11 The above table is not intended to give a comprehensive list of when accessibility analysis is required, but rather to illustrate the types of techniques which can be used in each situation. Chapter 8 demonstrates the use of these techniques on the five case studies undertaken as part of this research. More specific guidance on the analytical methods is described in separate Scottish Executive research (Scottish Executive 2000).

9.12 In some circumstances the results of the accessibility analysis can be presented qualitatively i.e. "the new bus service will improve accessibility for unemployed people in village 'X' to the job centre". However for most practical applications it will be more helpful to quantify how much improvement will be achieved and for how many people. This will then allow comparisons between alternative investment approaches helping to ensure that investment is prioritised where it provides the best value.

9.13 For local authorities and others to target improvements effectively It is important to identify the impacts of changes on accessibility levels. Analysis which merely shows that there is a need does not imply that the transport investment being proposed caters for this need. In Table 19 it is suggested that, for the analysis of unmet need, the value indicators should be factored by the affected population. With this approach the true benefits of an intervention should be apparent. In remote areas there are likely to be fewer people affected by the accessibility changes but large impacts on levels of accessibility will generally be easier to achieve. In more densely populated areas there will usually be better accessibility, making further improvements harder to achieve, but the number of people affected by the change will be much greater.

9.14 This emphasises the importance of identifying what need is being described under the four categories discussed in Chapter 2: expressed, stated, comparative, and community. Objective levels of community need can be defined using accessibility analysis to set minimum acceptable levels. Local, regional, national, or international benchmarking of accessibility levels allows comparative need to be defined by trip purpose and population group. However accessibility analysis should not be considered in isolation. Expressed also needs to be demonstrated through the demand for travel and stated need established through surveys of the local community.

National Targets and Indicators

9.15 It was noted in Chapter 2 that the 10 year transport plan (DETR 2000) set a national accessibility target for access to rural public transport in England, but that a similar target was probably not appropriate for Scotland. The Table 19 categories identify the type of target which could be set for Scottish rural areas which could help to deliver national policy objectives.

9.16 National targets are an effective way to galvanise integrated action on rural accessibility with complementary improvements being achieved in both transport and non-transport sectors. The strategic analysis in Chapter 3 would enable targets to be set based on drive times. This would not be ideal for identifying targets for non car travel, since drive times are not always a suitable proxy for non car travel, and non car travel is much more relevant for targeting investment towards the needs of socially excluded people.

9.17 More detail on potential targets is available from the case study analysis. This gives a broad indication of the approximate level of change in non car accessibility which can be achieved from transport or non transport investment, but further work would be necessary to develop this towards a national target which recognises the diversity of rural areas across the country.

9.18 Accessibility indicators calculated as part of policy and project appraisal for one purpose could be of wider benefit to rural policy development across Scotland provided a consistent approach is taken for the analysis. At present indicators in SEGIS based on drive times are the best proxy for accessibility at a national level. New indicators developed either centrally or locally could be incorporated in GIS to allow the data to be linked with other policy variables.

9.19 If a fragmentary approach is taken across Scotland, each local application is likely to be slightly different, since it will be tailored to sensitive local issues. This will make comparisons between investment in different parts of the country difficult to evaluate on a common basis. To ensure a consistent methodology for national comparisons, indicators could be developed centrally by the Scottish Executive helping to reduce resource constraints within individual local authorities, and supporting a more consistent and robust approach to rural transport planning for all authorities. Alternatively fairly rigid guidance could be issued to local authorities if the authorities preferred this approach.

Community Planning of Accessibility Improvements

9.20 The appraisal framework emphasises the benefits of considering accessibility changes for each affected people group and trip purpose. By identifying the stake of each group in the project, as shown in Figure 29, the decision making and implementation process should be clearer. Ensuring that each stakeholder can contribute effectively towards accessibility improvements requires partnership working. The main stakeholders in rural areas are:

  • Local residents and businesses - This group usually contribute the largest element to the costs of rural transport through car, van and lorry purchase, fuel, and fares. The key challenge for analysis is to ensure that the decisions of each individual or group do not have adverse effects on the decisions of others and preferably that they help to support the aims of others.
  • Public agencies - Local and central government, economic development agencies, health authorities, environmental protection bodies, and tourist agencies are a few of the public agencies with a legitimate transport remit in rural areas. Each has public funding to deliver defined objectives but overlap must be avoided to ensure effective use of scarce public resources.
  • Transport operators - Bus, rail, ferry, and air operators and road, airport, port, and railway infrastructure providers receive varying levels of public subsidy in rural areas. Travel demand analysis is more likely to be of interest to operators than accessibility analysis but destination accessibility considering the population catchments for services is also relevant.

9.21 Building the commitment of all stakeholders not only relies upon knowledge of the potential accessibility change, but on the management of effective community based planning. Initiatives, which are most likely to succeed, are ones which work within accepted community structures. Within any community there will be formal or informal centres and leadership structures. Change can be implemented within these structures, provided accepted limits of operation and responsibility are respected. People are motivated in different ways and success is built upon a targeted approach. An important starting point to develop community based initiatives is to identify the main factors which support and threaten any community. Often a pub or a shop will be the focus for community exchange, and building support within this structure is important. Each community will have its own local characteristics so transport changes may or may not fit.

9.22 Community based initiatives for rural transport are currently fragmentary. The surveys demonstrate how working through the formal or informal leaders, positive influence could be made on the development of more sustainable transport solutions. This can involve considerable staff resources over a long period of time, but transport trends also change slowly so can be included within these wider structures. Success builds upon success so it will be important to publicise successful community based initiatives. However, enthusiasm for any initiative soon wanes, so successful community based initiatives will always be tackling new challenges.