Best ways to get around rural areas without a car

Donna Smith is the Director of Training with Easter Seals Project Action, which supports accessible transportation across the nation. Here she is with a guest post.

Getting from A to B

by Donna SmithDonna Smith and her Seeing Eye dog Farlow. Have dog, will travel.

Have you ever considered how you would travel in small town America if you didn’t drive a car? This is a concern for many people who live in rural or small town areas across the country — either they don’t have a car, can’t drive a car, or are part of a household that only has one car.

Alternatives to driving (bus, subway, rail, trolley or taxi service) are not always available outside of large urban areas of the country. Even when alternative transportation options are available, there can be many restrictions: limited hours of operation, restricted coverage area, eligible only to certain populations, lack of connectivity between service areas, just to name a few. So what do people without the option of driving do to get around in rural America? It often comes down to learning to use a patchwork of available options.

Travel training is the profession of teaching independent travel skills to people with disabilities, older adults and people with limited English proficiency. Easter Seals Project ACTION recently modified the “Introduction to Travel Training” curriculum—now we teach travel skills in rural settings, too.

Our Introduction to Travel workshops start out with making an assessment of a person’s abilities and skills for independent travel, planning out the trip and assessing the trip for safety and accessibility for the person who will be making the trip. After that, the person taking the trip is taught additional skills needed to successfully reach their destination.

Most trips in rural areas are made with a combination of walking, bus transportation and, sometimes, carpooling or volunteer drivers. How much of the trip can be made as a pedestrian depends not only on the traveler’s ability to walk or roll, but the safety and accessibility of the environment. Some questions we consider:

  • Are there sidewalks?
  • If so, are those sidewalks passable?
  • If there are no sidewalks, and the person must travel along the shoulder of the road, is it wide enough to allow for a safe distance from moving traffic?
  • Is there sufficient lighting to make walking on the shoulder feasible?
  • What kind of intersections must be crossed?
  • Is there a pedestrian crossing cycle?
  • If there is no pedestrian crossing cycle, is there clearly a safe opportunity for a pedestrian to cross?
  • Is there enough time to make the crossing?

These sorts of considerations are taken for granted in a lot of urban areas, but in rural and small town locations, there can be a very mixed bag of responses to these questions. When transportation is available to the public in rural areas, most often it is some kind of bus system. It can be a fixed-route system that runs one or more defined routes with either specific bus stops or flag stop service, or it might be a flexible route system that allows for slight deviations to pick up people at home or other locations such as a supermarket or workplace.

Even in places where bus service like this exists, people have to figure out how they can get to the bus service. If walking or rolling isn’t an option, then asking a friend or family member for a ride, finding a carpool, or using a volunteer driver are all options. Working out the details for each of these is up to the individuals involved. However, some kind of compensation is typically offered — paying for fuel, offering a rate per mile, or paying a set fee for the trip.

The National Research & Training Center on Blindness & Low Vision
offers a Transportation Guide that is a very good resource for learning more about how to find and make use of the possible transportation options in your local area. Easter Seals Project ACTION was pleased to serve on the advisory council for this research project and contribute to this resource guide.

Easter Seals Project ACTION also offered a free webinar called “Getting from A to B: Connecting Individuals to Transportation Resources in Your Community” last month, and if you missed it, then don’t worry – you can still access it online at the “event resources” section of our event page. To learn more about travel training, check out the resources at the Project ACTION web site.


Comments may not reflect Easterseals' policies or positions.

  1. Grant Ross Says:

    Beth your a fuckin idiot do you even know what a rural area is wtf there ain’t no fuckin buses trains or whatever else stupid s*** you said

  2. Deborah Hardin Says:

    I have a friend in Cedartown ga. She is a senior with health issues. Her car needs repairs and she needs medical attention. Like most people, she has put off going for medical attention due to pandemic, etc. She has Medicaid but has no way to get to urgent care clinic. I live in AL. She has no friends or family in Georgia. What resources or agencies can help her? There is some type of transport for Medicaid recipiants, but they do not show up when scheduled for appointments. Please help. Thanks

  3. Wayne Tubbs Says:

    I live in Crockett, Texas, and I can’t drive to apply for a new apartment in Houston, Texas. And there’s no bus station in Crockett, Texas anymore. And I struggle every time I bring home groceries, cleaning supplies, and things I buy at Walmart to decorate, organize and upgrade my apartment.

  4. Lindsey Says:

    How can I find out about the transportation options in my area?

  5. Kelly Says:

    Greetings, I survived a brain injury and continue to suffer from the effects. Of the illness which lead to multiple surgeries. How and who do I contact for assistance with housing and transportation.
    Thanks so much..