Rural accessibility depends upon the location of services and facilities and the travel options available for each group in society to reach these locations. Previous research has separately considered:
- the accessibility needs of rural dwellers;
- the transport policy interventions to overcome problems; and
- alternative accessibility measuring techniques.
This research was commissioned to build on these three strands of work and strengthen the evidence base for policies that seek to address the identified problems of rural accessibility.
- To assess the extent of transport based social exclusion in selected rural areas;
- To review existing evidence on the role of transport in social exclusion in rural Scotland;
- To review innovation in rural transport and its role in addressing transport disadvantage;
- To review current methods for identifying the extent of transport related social exclusion in rural Scotland;
- To investigate current and potential use of accessibility indicators or measurement techniques in the rural context;
- To utilise relevant accessibility indicators and measurement techniques to assess the transport options and destination opportunities available to a representative sample of rural dwellers;
- To recommend appropriate accessibility indicators or measurement techniques for use in future policy development, monitoring and evaluation.
Surveys were undertaken in five areas of Scotland, using a postal survey of 725 residents to establish travel patterns; a telephone survey of 250 residents to define perceptions of accessibility; and five focus groups to examine options to improve accessibility. Local authorities and key transport operators were also interviewed to establish current policies and concerns about rural accessibility. The five study areas were:
- West Aberdeenshire - Relatively affluent mixed commuter and agricultural characteristics;
- East Ayrshire - Agricultural and declining industrial area;
- Central Caithness and Sutherland - Remote mainland;
- East Lothian - Relatively affluent commuter area;
- Wigtownshire - Deep rural and agricultural area.
Using data on services and facilities from the Scottish Executive Geographical Information Systems (SEGIS), published public transport timetable information, and road network information, accessibility levels were calibrated against the observed travel patterns from the postal surveys. The qualitative views and quantitative analysis allowed the main factors affecting travel behaviour and transport derived social exclusion in rural areas to be defined, supporting recommendations for the planning, management, operation and analysis of rural accessibility.
- Rural dwellers are generally content with the trade off they have made sacrificing accessibility benefits for other quality of life gains. To overcome accessibility difficulties, car based solutions, with a managed approach to providing lifts for those without their own cars, are generally viewed as the most promising approach, but bus and other community transport initiatives are also suggested, particularly for elderly people.
- Social exclusion is greatest amongst unemployed and elderly people but most people can give examples of being excluded from some social and leisure activities due to access problems.
- Increased public funding is delivering more bus miles, but there are mixed messages about the success of services in delivering accessibility improvements, demonstrating a requirement for more rigorous needs based appraisal in transport planning and monitoring.
- Rural residents, local authorities, and transport operators all highlight concerns about the low use of many rural bus services. To overcome these problems, rural accessibility planning by trip purpose and population group is needed with:
- A major culture change in attitudes towards rural public and community transport by both transport users and providers, facilitated through community planning.
- An effective dialogue between all groups encouraging greater 'ownership' of sustainable and workable solutions, including some softening of existing boundaries between the administration of public and community transport.
- A step by step approach towards better co-ordination of rural transport resources and management recognising that, although significant obstacles will take time to overcome, short term progress is possible.
To provide a framework for integrated action on rural transport, national targets should be set for access to employment, hospitals, post offices, shopping and other key services. 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.
To set these goals and targets, and 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.
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 to demonstrate practical co-ordination between public, community, health, social work and education transport. 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.