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Rural Accessibility




Survey and analysis findings

10.1 Rural dwellers are generally content with the trade off they have made sacrificing accessibility benefits for other quality of life benefits. Car travel ensures a practical level of accessibility for most trip purposes and those without a car available rely on lifts from car owners for most of their travel. Expectations of rural accessibility are consistent with the type of area, but the need for some services to be provided locally is common to all types of rural area. Local services such as shops and post offices are viewed as important, both for sustaining the rural economy, and for their accessibility advantages.

10.2 When discussing social exclusion, rural dwellers focus on problems for young unemployed and elderly people. However people also point to the many social and leisure activities which rural dwellers, particularly younger people, are excluded from due to access problems. Car based solutions, with a managed approach to providing lifts, are generally viewed as the most promising way to overcome these accessibility difficulties, but in some places bus and community transport initiatives are suggested, particularly for elderly people.

10.3 Satisfaction with rural bus services is highest in commuter rural areas. In these areas commercial services dominate the service provision but their viability often relies on the urban sections of routes rather than the income from rural passengers. Increasing competition within the bus industry may limit such cross subsidy from urban to rural services in the future. Elsewhere, increased public funding is delivering more bus miles, but there are mixed messages about the success of services in meeting local need, demonstrating a requirement for more rigorous needs based appraisal in service planning and monitoring.

10.4 The surveys of rural residents, local authorities, and transport operators all highlight concerns about passenger levels on many rural bus services. There is less consensus about how to provide services which will prove to be more attractive for travellers but the surveys identify that:

  • Better co-ordination of rural transport services is viewed as a high priority by all groups. Scottish Executive, Council, Health, and Education resources together comprise a very large existing public financial and staff commitment to rural transport. Together with private resources from communities, including businesses, and transport operators there is potential for significantly better rural accessibility within existing funding. Improved software for managing demand responsive transport and other information technology improvements also improve the prospects for more effective management. Achieving full co-ordination of these resources is viewed as, at least a major challenge, and perhaps unachievable in the short term. Nevertheless all groups can see ways to achieve, at least some, better short term co-ordination.
  • A major culture change is required in public attitudes towards rural public transport. Public expectations are that scheduled services can be provided to meet their needs, but awareness of other more innovative approaches to rural public and community transport is low. An effective dialogue needs to be developed between rural transport users and providers offering both groups confidence that practical improvements can be made.
  • There is much greater potential for demand responsive services, but this needs to be linked to greater "ownership" of the services by the community. This will require better publicity about services and some softening of existing boundaries between the administration of public and community transport.

A robust methodology for measuring accessibility

10.5 Classification of rural accessibility characteristics, for planning and investment needs, should take account of the trip purpose, population group (including tourists) and type of geographical area in that order. Rural social exclusion is often hidden within wealthy geographical areas and transport services are most successful when they target particular trip purposes. Mapping of accessibility to key services has significant advantages over analysis based on population alone since impacts of actions by transport and non transport service providers can be seen explicitly.

10.6 Quantitative analysis is more useful than qualitative appraisal. By quantifying need, investment can be targeted locally and nationally where it makes the greatest impact on accessibility. The benefits of a large accessibility change for a small number of people in a remote area can therefore be compared with investment which delivers a smaller accessibility change for more people in a less remote area.

10.7 The level of service provided at trip destinations is best represented in terms of activity levels such as retail turnover or healthcare patient numbers but useful analysis is still possible with simpler data such as retail floorspace or healthcare facilities. Within any analysis, the zone size, geographical coverage, and representation of transport depends upon the detail required for the policy issue being considered. However in the absence of relevant data useful qualitative will often still be possible.

10.8 Car travel times can easily be estimated using GIS, transport models, or other trip planning software. Public transport times and service frequencies need to be extracted from timetable information, but with increasing availability of electronic timetables this task is becoming less time consuming. The sensitivity of travel behaviour to travel time and cost varies by trip purpose and population group. To improve the accuracy of this behavioural representation beyond the calibration possible in this research, larger sample sizes will be needed.

An appraisal framework

10.9 Assessing the accessibility needs of rural dwellers involves consideration of: expressed, stated, comparative and community need. Expressed need is demonstrated through observed demand, stated need through surveys of the local community, but for an objective view of comparative and community need accessibility analysis is required.

10.10 Different stakeholders have specific aims which need to be part of the integrated appraisal framework. Central government may have particular goals to ensure best value in the use of public resources, local authorities may focus on unmet needs, transport operators may focus on travel demand, and community groups, health authorities and other agencies may have concerns relating to specific trips. Rural accessibility changes provide a common aim for all stakeholders, but a wide range of accessibility measures are needed for informed decision making. Measures of access to regional centres, employment centres, hospitals, shopping, post offices, banks and other facilities and access of facilities by different population groups will all need to be described for particular decisions.

10.11 Planned improvements should seek to deliver targeted and measurable changes in accessibility. Where estimated improvements in accessibility for a particular group are not achieved in scheme delivery, then the reasons for this can be understood from the accessibility analysis and the investment approach altered accordingly.

10.12 Local rural transport strategies offer the potential for co-ordinating local action on rural transport to improve accessibility and need to be fully integrated with non-transport policies in rural areas. All plans should include the resources and timescales for taking forward defined plans and initiatives.


10.13 To provide a framework for integrated action on rural transport, national targets should be set. This would be a powerful way to focus action at the Executive's policy aims. Adopting the national target in the DTLR 10 year plan would not achieve the distribution of effort needed in Scotland. Instead, integration with other public services could be encouraged by setting targets for access to employment, hospitals, post offices, shopping and other key services. More general targets related to population could also be set for access to regional centres from rural areas, and for access by particular population groups. The analysis in this research could be used, and developed further, to allow achievable targets to be defined.

10.14 Achievable and measurable accessibility goals should also be defined within local transport strategies to allow the contribution of public and community transport initiatives to be assessed on a common basis. The planning and management of these local strategies should be fully integrated with local community planning for non transport issues.

10.15 To set these goals and targets, and to monitor progress, consistent and repeatable analysis methods are required at both local and national levels. Assumptions, data sources and calculation methodologies should therefore be set out clearly for all analyses. Accessibility planning approaches for transport and non transport sectors are still evolving, so continuing support is needed to encourage wider use of these techniques and to foster good practice.

10.16 Effective co-ordination of rural transport has proved to be an elusive goal, so the Scottish Executive should sponsor a demonstration project, or projects, to identify how obstacles can be overcome and what types of co-ordination are practical between public, community, health, social work and education transport.

10.17 Either associated with these demonstration projects or as a separate initiative, "dialogue marketing" of rural transport services should be tested in rural Scotland with individual and group action programmes providing practical information to travellers and transport operators on services and travel needs. With such initiatives travellers join a scheme which requires them to provide regular information on their travel patterns. Transport providers are then able to plan services to better meet local needs and to provide personal travel advice to the users.

10.18 Software should be developed to allow public transport data to be extracted easily from the PTI2000 database. It is recognised that current licence constraints place some limitations on this, but there would be major benefits in ensuring free access to this data for transport planning purposes.