The U.S. Rural Population and Scheduled Intercity Transportation in 2010: A Five-Year Decline in Transportation Access

The U.S. Rural Population and Scheduled Intercity Transportation in 2010: A Five-Year Decline in Transportation Access

By Theresa Firestine

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Between 2005 and 2010, 3.5 million rural residents lost access to scheduled intercity transportation, increasing the percent of rural residents without access to intercity transportation from 7 to 11 percent. In 2005, 5.4 million rural residents lacked access to intercity transportation, with that total increasing to 8.9 million rural residents in 2010. Of the 71.7 million rural residents retaining access in 2010, 3.7 million lost access to more than one intercity transportation mode during the 5-year period. (See table 2.)

These numbers update a 2005 analysis by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration. In 2005, BTS measured access to intercity transportation within rural America. At the time, BTS calculated that 93 percent of rural residents in the United States lived within the coverage area of at least one of the four intercity public transportation modes (air, bus, ferry, and rail). Since then, significant changes have occurred to the networks of several of the modes. These changes include, but are not limited to, network reductions made by Greyhound and the suspension of the New Orleans–Jacksonville route previously provided by Amtrak's Sunset Limited.1 Using transportation facilities from the BTS Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database (IPCD)2 and internal BTS files, this report shows:

  • As of September 2010, 71.7 million (89 percent) of the 80.6 million rural residents in the United States lived within the coverage area of intercity air, bus, ferry, or rail transportation.
  • An estimated 3.5 million rural residents lost intercity transportation access between 2005 and 2010. An additional 3.7 million, who still had intercity transportation service in 2010, lost access to at least one transportation mode during the 5-year period.
  • Intercity bus transportation provided the greatest coverage across rural America in 2010, despite declining from 89 percent in 2005 to 78 percent in 2010. The percent of rural residents covered by air service remained unchanged (72 percent), while the percent covered by intercity rail declined from 42 to 40 percent of the rural population.
  • In 2005 and 2010, all rural residents in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island had access to at least one intercity public transportation mode (air, bus, ferry, or rail). In contrast, less than 60 percent of rural residents in North Dakota had access to at least one mode in both of those years.
  • Between 2005 and 2010, the largest decline in the number of rural residents with access to any intercity transportation occurred in Alabama, where 0.7 million rural residents (29 percent of the State rural population) lost access to intercity transportation.

Rural Coverage

In this report, rural areas within a specified reasonable distance of intercity air, bus, ferry, or rail transportation (hereafter referred to as the four intercity public transportation modes) are considered to have intercity transportation access to that mode. Rural residents living within a reasonable distance of more than one mode are counted once in the total number of rural persons with access to intercity transportation and once in the total for each mode providing coverage (see figure 2). The reasonable distance used in making these counts is defined as 25 miles from a non- or small-hub airport, bus station, ferry terminal, or rail station providing intercity service and as 75 miles from a medium- or large-hub airport.3 These distances are consistent with those used in the June 2005 Rural Scheduled Intercity Transportation and the U.S. Rural Population report (hereafter referred to as the June 2005 report) and other work.4

The air, ferry, and rail facilities used to compute coverage of each mode in 2010 come from the IPCD (as of September 2010). The intercity bus facilities come from a separate database collected by BTS staff.5 Combined, 3,726 intercity passenger locations have scheduled service. These locations may not necessarily be located in a rural area or in the rural area being served. In some cases a facility located in a major metropolitan area may provide no rural coverage, while in other cases it may provide coverage to nearby rural residents. A facility located in a rural area may additionally provide coverage to a neighboring rural community. In all, 3,611 of the 3,726 facilities (97 percent) provide intercity transportation access to one or more rural communities. These 3,611 facilities consist of 562 air facilities, 2,423 bus stations, 523 rail stations, and 103 ferry terminals with scheduled intercity passenger transportation.6 (See the methodology notes at the end of this report for more information on the process used to identify rural areas and those covered by public intercity transportation and on the facilities included in the analysis.)

The number of airports providing rural access declined by one in 2010 due to a loss of scheduled service at four airports and a gain at three.7 Bus and rail facilities and the access provided by each in rural America declined between 2005 and 2010; while the number of ferry terminals increased slightly.8 (See table 1.)

The facilities included in the 2010 analysis provided coverage to 71.7 million (89 percent) of the 80.6 million rural residents in the United States, or 3.5 million fewer rural residents than in 2005. This decline in intercity transportation coverage is due solely to changes in the transportation network as population counts from the 2000 Census were used in calculating coverage in both years. Declines in coverage, however, were not of equal magnitude across the number of modes providing coverage to rural residents. Only the number of rural persons covered by two or by three modes fell between 2005 and 2010, with the most significant decline occurring in access to three modes. In 2010, 2.6 million fewer rural residents had access to three intercity modes of transportation than in 2005 (see table 2). This decline in multimodal coverage affects the mobility of rural residents. Mobility, as discussed later in this report, tends to vary geographically.

Rural Coverage by Mode

Intercity bus transportation provided coverage to the largest number of rural residents in 2010, although to fewer rural residents than in 2005. In 2005, 71.5 million (89 percent) of the rural population lived within the coverage area of intercity bus transportation, compared to 63.1 million (78 percent) in 2010, when 8.4 million fewer rural residents had access to intercity bus transportation. This decline reflects primarily the network reductions made by Greyhound Lines after 2005. These reductions and the network changes in other modes contributed to 3.1 million fewer rural residents having access to only intercity bus transportation in 2010. In 2010 there were 9.3 million residents who had access to only intercity bus transportation, compared to 12.5 million in 2005.

Scheduled air service covered the second largest number of rural residents in 2005 and 2010, with equal coverage in both years (58.3 million, or 72 percent). However, as a sole mode of coverage, the number more than doubled between 2005 and 2010. In 2010, air transportation was the only intercity mode available to 5.5 million rural residents compared to 2.6 million 5 years earlier.

Intercity rail transportation provided the third largest coverage to rural residents in 2005 and 2010, although coverage fell between 2005 and 2010. During those five years, 1.4 million rural residents lost access to intercity rail transportation as coverage declined from 33.6 million (42 percent) to 32.2 million (40 percent). This reduction in intercity rail coverage reflects primarily the suspension of the New Orleans–Jacksonville line, which previously was part of Amtrak's Sunset Limited route. Bus, rail, and other network changes caused the number of rural residents with access to only intercity rail to increase nearly three-fold, from 322,251 in 2005 to 943,633 in 2010.

Intercity ferry service provided the least coverage in 2005 and 2010, as it can operate in fewer areas than other modes. In 2010 it served about 2.6 million rural residents, a slight increase from 2005. There were 61,322 rural residents who had access only to intercity ferry transportation (see table 3).

Rural Coverage by State

In 26 States, 90 percent or more of the rural residents lived within the coverage area of at least one of the intercity transportation modes in 2010 (see table 7). In seven States (Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and New York), 99 percent or more live within one or more of the four intercity transportation coverage areas (see table 4). Five of these seven States (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York) are among the States with the smallest proportion of rural residents (less than 20 percent of the total population live in a rural area). In only one of these States (New Hampshire), at least 50 percent of the total population lives in a rural area.

In the seven States with the most comprehensive rural intercity transportation coverage, a large percent of rural residents are covered by multiple transportation modes. Except in Delaware and New Jersey, at least 50 percent of rural residents live in the coverage area of at least three transportation modes. In Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, three or more modes serve 80 percent or more of the rural population (see table 5). In general, the States with multiple modes covering a large proportion of the rural population can be found in the Northeast, except for California, which has extensive Amtrak (intercity rail) and Amtrak Thruway (intercity bus) networks, and Washington. Modal coverage in rural areas by the number of modes in 2010 can be seen in figure 3.

Several of the States with rural populations in excess of 1 million have rural intercity transportation coverage less than the national average (less than 78 percent). These States include: Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia. While not containing as many rural residents, North Dakota (which has intercity air, bus, and rail service) had the poorest coverage in 2010 at 52 percent (see table 6).

States with the most transportation coverage experienced little to no change between 2005 and 2010. All five States with 100 percent coverage retained 100 percent coverage in 2010.

In contrast, the States with the least comprehensive coverage in 2010 (75 percent or less) experienced a range of coverage changes between 2005 and 2010. Additionally, a few of the States with coverage between 75 and 100 percent in 2005 fell into the mix of States with the least comprehensive coverage in 2010. In particular, intercity transportation coverage in rural areas fell from 94 percent in Alabama in 2005 to 65 percent in 2010 due to the loss of 2 rail stations and 56 bus facilities (see table 6).

Changes also occurred in multimodal coverage. As noted before, these changes impact the mobility of persons living in a rural area because rural areas covered by more than one mode offer a greater number of intercity transportation choices and travel destinations. Multimodal coverage declined most significantly in Alabama, Florida, and Minnesota where multiple rural communities, collectively accounting for more than 140,000 rural residents, lost two intercity modes of transportation. Figure 1 shows the changes in the number of modes serving rural areas. Table 7, at the end of this report, shows the change, by State, in residents served by three or more modes.

Rural Coverage by Mode and State

Air Service

Airline service, as of September 2010, covers 72 percent of those who live in rural America. In 24 States, the percent of rural residents covered by air service exceeds 72 percent. Alaska is one of the States with air coverage in excess of the national average, with 88.3 percent of rural residents living within the air transportation coverage area, and is the State with the largest number of airports providing rural service (many of which are serviced through the Essential Air Service Program9). In four States (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island), 100 percent of rural residents live within the air transportation coverage area.

Among States with less than 72 percent coverage, four States (North Dakota, Alabama, South Dakota, and Iowa) provide air coverage to less than 50 percent of rural residents. In these four States, most rural residents have access to other intercity transportations modes with 5 percent or less living in an area covered only by air transportation. Figure 4 shows rural areas with air coverage in 2010.

Air service provides the sole mode of intercity transportation coverage to 5.5 million rural residents, or 7 percent of the rural population. In 21 States, air service provides the only intercity transportation coverage to more than 7 percent of the rural population. Other than Hawaii, where air and ferry services are the only modes of intercity transportation, Nevada, at 22 percent, is the State with the highest percent of rural residents that have access to only air service and to no other modes. However, the rural area with only air coverage in Nevada is geographically smaller than Alaska. Alaska has the largest air-only coverage area but a smaller percent of rural residents with access to air only service because of low population density in these rural areas of the State. The largest number of rural residents with access to only air transportation is in North Carolina, although the State has a smaller percent of rural residents with access to only air transportation (see table 8).

The number of rural residents living in an area with access to only air transportation increased in most States between 2005 and 2010, with the most significant increase occurring in Nevada. The entire increase in air-only access was due to reductions in rural intercity bus service.

Bus Service

Intercity bus service provides the greatest coverage across rural America. In 2010, 2,423 out of the 2,430 bus stations included in the analysis provided intercity transportation coverage to 63.1 million rural residents (78 percent of the total rural population). In most States, intercity bus serves a greater share of the rural population than other modes. The only exceptions are in several Northeast States, where air or rail service covers a higher percentage of the population; in Alaska, where air service penetrates more rural areas; and in Hawaii, where there is no intercity bus service.

Intercity bus provides service to 100 percent of the rural population in 2 States (Connecticut and Rhode Island), over 90 percent in 9 additional States, and over 78 percent in another 16 States. In only three States (Hawaii, North Dakota, and West Virginia), intercity bus covers less than 50 percent of the rural population. Figure 5 shows bus coverage across the United States in 2010.

Intercity bus coverage changed significantly between 2005 and 2010 due to the discontinuation of some intercity bus routes, particularly in Southern, Central, and a few Atlantic States.10 The largest absolute loss in coverage occurred in North Carolina followed by Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. In each State, 500,000 or more rural residents lost intercity bus access. In each of these States, the percent of the rural population served by intercity bus declined by at least 20 percentage points, with the largest decline occurring in Alabama. In five additional States (Kentucky, New Mexico, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia), the proportion of the rural population served by intercity bus declined by 20 percentage points or more (see table 9 at the end of this report).

Ferry Service

As intercity ferry service can operate in only a limited number of places, it provides the least coverage to rural residents. In 2010, intercity ferry service covered 3 percent of the rural population in the United States and 10 percent of the population in the 19 States in which it serves.11 Despite covering a small percent of the rural population nationwide, intercity ferry provides service to 25 percent or more of the rural population in 5 of the 19 States that it serves. However, except in Delaware, intercity ferry provides the only mode of intercity transportation to less than 2 percent of the rural population. In Delaware, 7 percent of the rural population is served only by intercity ferry. Figure 6 shows the percent of rural residents with access to intercity ferry transportation in the 19 States it serves.

Intercity ferry coverage declined slightly between 2005 and 2010 in the area serviced by the Alaska Marine Highway System because of a loss of scheduled service at the Seward, Alaska terminal. Outside the area covered by the Alaska system, a slight increase in coverage occurred with the addition of scheduled service in Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island12 (see table 10 at the end of this report).

Rail Service

Amtrak and the Alaska Railroad are the two providers of intercity (noncommuter) rail service in the United States included in the analysis. All 507 of the included Amtrak facilities and 16 of the 22 Alaska Railroad facilities provide coverage to one or more rural areas. Together they provide intercity rail coverage to 40 percent of the rural population in the 47 States served by intercity rail (Hawaii, South Dakota, and Wyoming have no intercity rail transportation).

In 22 of the 47 States with intercity rail transportation, rail coverage exceeds 40 percent. In one State, Rhode Island, all rural residents live within the 25-mile radius around the intercity rail stations.

Among the 25 States with intercity rail transportation but with less than 40 percent coverage, there are 3 States (Tennessee, Idaho, and Kentucky) where 10 percent or less of rural residents live within the intercity rail coverage area. In all States with intercity rail transportation access, only a small number and percent of rural residents have access to only intercity rail. The number of rural residents with only intercity rail access exceeds 70,000 in four States (Illinois, South Carolina, Missouri, and Georgia), all of which are Midwestern or Southern States, and the percent of rural residents with only intercity rail access exceeds 5 percent in only three States (Montana, Kansas, and Vermont). Figure 7 shows rural areas with intercity rail coverage in 2010.

In most States, the number and percent of rural residents covered only by intercity rail changed marginally as no change in scheduled intercity rail occurred. However, coverage declined significantly in Florida and Mississippi due to the loss of scheduled rail transportation at multiple facilities. In Florida, intercity bus service continued to serve many of the stations served previously by intercity rail and intercity bus. In both States, however, the number and percent of rural residents served by only intercity rail did not change appreciably (see table 11 at the end of this report).

Implications of Changes in Rural Transportation Coverage

Significant changes in intercity transportation access in rural America occurred between 2005 and 2010. These changes present challenges to the mobility of rural residents and their access to intercity transportation. More significant challenges may be present when considering the service levels and connections that travelers can make to other modes at each of the transportation facilities analyzed in this report. For example, in rural areas served by only one intercity mode, such as intercity bus, more transportation options are available if that one mode provides transport to terminals served by other modes, such as airports and intercity rail stations, in nearby communities. This type of connectivity between modes, facilitates wider mobility for rural travelers who do not have direct access to the other modes in their own community. The number and types of intermodal connections at individual transportation facilities are included in the BTS Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database13 and can be used in future analysis on rural intercity transportation.

About this Report

This report was prepared by Theresa Firestine, an economist in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). BTS is a component of the United States Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

For Related BTS Data and Publications: www.bts.gov

For questions about this or other BTS reports, call 1-800-853-1351, email or visit www.bts.gov.

Data

Publications


Methodology Notes

This study employs a four-step GIS analysis:

  1. collection of intercity air, bus, ferry, and rail terminals;
  2. identification of areas comprising "rural America";
  3. identification of intercity facilities serving each area comprising rural America; and
  4. determining the total population served from areas with service to one or more intercity facilities.

Collection of Intercity Transportation Facilities

The 2010 list of intercity transportation facilities was developed from the list of intercity air, ferry, and rail facilities, as of September 19 2010, from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database (IPCD). Twelve airports with no scheduled passenger flights in 2009 were removed from the list, and two airports with scheduled passenger flights were added (Larsen Bay, AK, and Grant County Moses Lake, AK). Intercity bus facilities, as of July 1 2010, were added from a separate collection effort. This effort drew bus facility information from Greyhound Lines, other national providers, and regional providers, such as those operated by State governments with funds from the Federal Transit Administration Section 5311(f) formula grants program (listed in the Russell's Official National Motor Coach Guide) as well as from discount bus providers such as Megabus and several ethnic bus providers. This list of intercity bus facilities will be used as the basis for adding intercity bus to the IPCD in 2011.

The 2005 list of intercity transportation facilities was developed from the list of intercity air, bus, ferry, and rail facilities used in the June 2005 Rural Scheduled Intercity Transportation and the U.S. Rural Population report.14 To this list, 35 airports with scheduled passenger service in 2005 were added and 11 airports with no scheduled passenger service in 2005 were removed (the removed airports provided only charter and/or commuter service). Also, 62 intercity ferry terminals included in the 2010 list and determined to provide intercity ferry service (per the 2006 National Census of Ferry Operators) were added. To maintain consistency in estimation, latitude and longitude for air, ferry, and rail facilities in the 2005 list were replaced with those in the 2010 list if the facility existed in both years. Due to a lack of information, it could not be determined for most bus facilities whether a particular bus facility existed in both years. Where the determination could be made, the coordinates from the 2010 list were used.

Identification of Rural America

As in the 2005 report, a rural area is a Census block group with its centroid outside of the area defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as an urbanized area or urban cluster in 2000. A Census block group is a cluster of Census blocks15 having the same first digit of their four-digit identifying numbers within a Census tract.16 Urbanized areas are towns, cities, or other places, or more than one contiguous place, with a population of 50,000 or more. Urbanized areas generally, but not always, are located around large cities. Urban clusters are places of 2,500 to 50,000 lying outside of urbanized areas. These adjacent communities are considered to be urban in character even though they often may be located far from a major metropolitan area and thus may be considered by some people as rural. As there is no clear indicator as to which urban clusters may be considered rural, all urban clusters are treated as urban in the analysis.

The number of areas identified as rural differs slightly from the previous report as an improved selection process, employing azimuthal distance measurements, was implemented.

Identification of Rural Areas With Intercity Transportation Access

A Census block group identified as rural has access to intercity transportation if its centroid lies within a 25-mile radius around a small- or non-hub airport, bus station, ferry terminal, or rail station or within a 75-mile radius around a medium- or large-hub airport.17 These parameters were selected in the previous report and maintained in this report to be consistent with work performed by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and by the Office of the Secretary. They also are consistent with criteria used to determine eligibility for subsidized air service under the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. For air facilities in the 2005 list, the threshold distance was based on enplanements in 2004, and for air facilities in the 2010 list, on enplanements in 2009. As a result, the coverage area expanded at 5 airports (Manchester, NH; Oklahoma City, OK; Norfolk, VA; Richmond, VA; and Spokane, WA) that changed their classification from small to medium hub. For all facilities in both the 2005 and 2010 list, no adjustment was made to coverage areas to account for natural boundaries such as lakes, mountains, bays, etc., with the exception of Hawaii, where the coverage area for each airport was confined to the island on which the airport is located.

Determination of Population Served

The rural population served by intercity transportation was calculated from Census 2000 SF 1 population data corresponding to the Census block groups identified as rural and with transportation access.

1 A majority of Greyhound's route restructuring occurred prior to the 2005 BTS analysis, but further network changes were made after the data for the 2005 report was compiled.

2 The Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database (IPCD) can be accessed at: http://www.transtats.bts.gov/DatabaseInfo.asp?DB_ID=640&Link=0

3 A large hub is an airport that annually enplanes at least 1 percent of all domestic enplanements, a medium hub airport enplanes 0.25-0.999 percent, a small hub airport enplanes 0.05-0.249 percent, and a nonhub airport enplanes less than 0.05 percent.

4 See: B.D. Spear and R.W. Weil, "Access to Intercity Transportation Services from Small Communities: A Geospatial Analysis," Transportation Research Record 1666 (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 1999).

5 Coverage in 2005 recalculated from files used in June 2005 report. These files were the predecessor to the IPCD.

6 See the methodology notes at end of this report for information on facilities included in the analysis.

7 The following airports had passenger enplanements in 2004 but not in 2009 and hence considered to have a loss in service: Grand Rapids Itasca, MN (GPZ); Ellington Field, Houston, TX (EFD); Pease International, Portsmouth, NH (PSM); and Forbes Field, Topeka, KS (FOE). The following airports did not have passenger enplanements in 2004 but had enplanements in 2009 and hence considered to have a gain in service: Stockton, CA (SCK); Palwaukee, Wheeling, IL (PWK); and Del Rio, TX (DRT).

8 The number of ferry terminals included in re-estimating coverage in 2005 exceeds the count in the June 2005 report, as it includes all ferry facilities with scheduled intercity passenger transportation reported in the 2006 Census of Ferry Operators and not just those belonging to the Alaska Marine Highway System. The June 2005 report included only ferry terminals belonging to the Alaska Marine Highway System. Scheduled intercity ferry service not included in 2010 coverage but in 2005 coverage includes Steward, AK. Scheduled intercity ferry service included in 2010 coverage but not in 2005 coverage includes Kaunakakai Harbor, HI; Maa'laea Harbor, HI; Falmouth Marine, MA; Steamship Authority Terminal, Hyannis, MA; Steamship Authority Terminal, Nantucket, MA; and Conley's Wharf, RI.

9 For more information on the Essential Air Service Program, see: http://ostpxweb.dot.gov/aviation/x-50%20role_files/essentialairservice.htm

10 Service discontinuances, resulting from Greyhound system restructuring, in the West and the Midwest are not captured as they occurred prior to the 2005 analysis.

11 There are intercity ferry terminals in 18 States. These 18 terminals serve the States in which they are located and Maryland. Maryland has no intercity ferry terminal, but Maryland lies within the 25-mile service coverage of an intercity ferry terminal in Virginia.

12 The addition of intercity ferry service in Rhode Island provided additional intercity ferry access to not only rural residents in Rhode Island but also Connecticut and Massachusetts.

13 The Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database (IPCD) can be accessed at: http://www.transtats.bts.gov/DatabaseInfo.asp?DB_ID=640&Link=0

14http://www.bts.gov/publications/

15 A Census block is the smallest geographic unit for which the Census Bureau tabulates 100-percent data.

16 A Census tract is a relatively permanent statistical subdivision of a county that, at the time of establishment, captures a relatively homogeneous population with respect to demographic characteristics, economic status, and living conditions. A Census tract averages about 4,000 inhabitants.

17 A large-hub is an airport that annually enplanes at least 1 percent of all domestic enplanements, a medium hub airport enplanes 0.25-0.999 percent, a small hub airport enplanes 0.05-0.249 percent, and a non-hub airport enplanes less than 0.05 percent.