In search of sustainable and inclusive mobility solutions for rural areas

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Authors: Helen Poltimäe, Merlin Rehema, Janika Raun and Age Poom

Low residential density, long travel distances and the traditional reliance on private transport create sustainability challenges for rural mobility. Furthermore, rural travellers have diverse weekly and seasonal travel needs and patterns as they represent both local residents and second-home-owners as well as domestic and foreign tourists. Conventional public transport system faces multiple challenges when aiming to respond to the diverse user needs of all traveller groups in rural areas.

In this newly published paper, we explored how novel mobility solutions can respond to the sustainability challenges of rural mobility and ensure inclusive travel options for all rural travellers.

Poltimäe, H., Rehema, M., Raun J., Poom, A (2022). In search of sustainable and inclusive mobility solutions for rural areas. European Transport Research Review 14, 13. 

We used grey literature to identify and categorise novel mobility solutions, which have been applied in European rural areas and are suitable for travelling longer distances (see Table 1). We reached four categories of novel mobility solutions: semi-flexible demand-responsive transport, flexible door-to-door demand-responsive transport, car-sharing, and ride-sharing. We analysed the social inclusivity, economic viability, and environmental impacts of those categories. While addressing the aspects of social inclusivity, we brought both permanent and temporal residents of rural areas under one research framework. 

Table 2 below summarises the advantages and disadvantages of novel mobility solutions from the perspective of different traveller groups. Our findings revealed that while single novel mobility solutions are seldom applicable for all rural travellers, strong spatial and temporal synergies exist when combining different solutions. Hence, rural areas need a connected and flexible set of mobility solutions, which are sensitive to the temporal and spatial patterns of mobility needs of rural population. For example, the potential of car-sharing and ride-sharing is yet to be realised in rural areas.

The transition to novel mobility solutions that serve both permanent and temporary residents requires well-planned policies, which are still lacking for rural areas. Accessible and easily understandable information on routing, booking, and ticketing systems, as well as cooperation, shared values, and trust between various parties, are key success factors for sustainable rural mobility. Integrating the needs of various user groups is essential when aiming to achieve the provision of environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable mobility solutions in rural areas.

The research was supported by the Interreg-funded project “Mobility and Accessibility in Rural Areas. New approaches for developing mobility concepts in remote areas” (MARA), the Estonian Research Council and Jean Monnet Network Action “Cooperative, Connected and Automated Mobility: EU and Australasian Innovations” (CCAMEU).

The Mobility Lab of the University of Tartu is an interdisciplinary research group that studies human mobility and its associations with society and the environment using mobile (big) data.

Categorized as Research