The Challenges of Rural Mobility
In the French countryside, 70% of journeys are made by car, and 22% on foot. This means that only 9% of the population in rural areas uses public transportation for their everyday commutes. Such figures rightly lead one to wonder where the issue lies. Here is a brief overview of the challenges of rural mobility.
Rural Mobility: Where Does the Issue Lie?
In France, rural areas house between 22 and 40 million people (it varies based on one’s definition of a rural area). Although these figures are certainly significant, public transportation networks do not serve these places, which are often far removed from the most fundamental amenities, encouraging rural residents to become dependent on their personal vehicle. In the countryside, journeys are indeed mainly made by car, whether it be to bring the children to school, to commute to work, to go shopping, or to see the doctor.
Even though certain localities are now taking a few initiatives, the alternative to personal vehicles in rural areas remains insufficient, or even non-existent. The transportation infrastructure available is perfectly appropriate for large cities but is not well suited for the country. Thus, as much as 80% of the whole French territory has no other means of transport at its disposal for everyday journeys than personal cars.
The 5 Main Issues Pertaining to Rural Mobility
Nowadays, rural areas are extremely reliant on cars and are over-motorised. Rural mobility has therefore become one of the priorities of the LOM law (the “Loi d’Orientation sur les Mobilités”, which surrounds all decisions on mobility), as the issue is a societal, economic, and environmental one all at once.
Access to Services: A Priority
Access to services constitutes a major challenge in lightly populated areas. “Services” include everyday essentials, such as shops, schools, care services… In rural areas, the time and distance necessary to access these central locations can vary by as much as threefold. However, such a huge discrepancy highlights one common factor: People who live in the countryside need to travel, on average, twice as far as city dwellers in order to reach their place of work, a shop, or to see a doctor. Over the years, these distances continue to increase within lightly populated areas.
A Population at Risk of Being Excluded
One out of every 4 French citizens has had to turn down a job offer due to a lack of solutions for the daily home-work commute. Rural living and a lack of transport offer thus pushes residents to the most penalising restrictions, at the risk of feeling completely excluded. Equal employment opportunity proves complicated and many of them have to limit their search area just because of transportation. Thus, in rural France, the unemployment rate for those who do not own a personal vehicle is 5 times higher than in the city. And even when people do have a car at their disposal, living in a rural setting exposes them to energy vulnerability much more acutely. Fuel consumption being much higher, many simply could not face any price increase on fuel.
An Overwhelming Budget Item
Transportation constitutes a very significant expense, especially when one’s personal vehicle is required for every single journey. In rural areas, as we have established, the distances between people’s homes and everyday services or workplaces are much greater than in a city. When made by car, these journeys lead to sizeable expenses (including fuel, insurance, amortisation, and maintenance for the vehicle) which can sometimes be 4 times more expensive than in urban areas.
Whereas in a city a monthly public transport pass only represents a small fraction of people’s budget, in the countryside, transport costs can make up as much as 20% of a household’s expenditures.
An Alarming Environmental Impact
Finally, beyond the impact it has on the population, rural mobility is essentially centred around cars, which has immediate consequences on the environment. Knowing the 30% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation makes it easy to imagine the environmental impact of using personal vehicles for rural mobility so predominantly.
Towards New Rural Mobility Solutions
It has become urgent to offer new solutions for rural mobility for people who live in the countryside or on the outskirts of urban areas. Even though some may have already been implemented in certain regions, they are not sufficiently mature and need to be improved. The LOM law (Loi d’Orientation sur les Mobilités) has made it a priority and puts forward several areas for improvement:
- Furthering the advances in shared mobility to make it a more prominent option for rural mobility, be it through carpooling, car sharing, or organised hitch-hiking;
- Facilitating multimodality and making it more straightforward;
- Promoting low-carbon vehicles by implementing more charging points for electric vehicles;
- Encouraging the use of bicycles by creating more bicycle lanes, by offering secure car parks, green lanes, or electric bike-share services;
- Promoting walking buses and bicycling buses for school pick-ups and drop-offs;
- Enhancing demand-responsive transport. To prevent empty runs, DRT optimises routes and caters for every user’s needs.
Padam Mobility is actively involved in the development of rural mobility solutions. Demand-responsive transport (DRT) thus stands out as one of the most cost-effective, convenient, and straightforward solutions, allowing users to get around more easily even in the countryside.