Transport is a vital factor for our rural population
One of the basic questions in rural areas is: “How do people get there?” It has a counterpart: “What are the consequences of not being able to do it?”
It is an employment issue, an education and training issue, a health issue, a local economy issue, an opportunity issue, a skills issue, an equality issue, an environmental issue and many more.
Traffic is an enabler – nothing more and nothing less. When it’s available, it connects people to what they need. It connects workplaces, companies, services and facilities with their target customers or users. But when it’s not as available, those connections don’t work as well, or at all.
Why is this so important in a rural context? A quarter of all Europeans live in rural areas – cities, villages, hinterland, islands or remote areas. Ireland typifies this pattern.
Because people are spread out in smaller settlements, the sheer size of the rural population is usually overlooked. But the reality is that as many Europeans live in rural areas as the populations of Germany and France combined. So rural areas are really important.
The EU long-term vision for rural areas was launched last year by EU President Ursula von der Leyen. It calls for “stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous rural areas by 2040”. Crucially, “connected” encompasses both the physical and digital dimensions.
People in rural areas have far fewer facilities and amenities in close proximity to where they live. They have to travel for many of the things they need – for work, education, shopping, health care and leisure. As local facilities are increasingly closed and instead concentrated in large centers, more trips are required and distances become longer. This is a serious challenge.
People in rural areas are heavily dependent on cars. Public transport is lacking, distances are too great to walk and cycling is not usually a viable option on rural roads. Those who do not have a car are severely disadvantaged and can even be socially excluded. Households need multiple cars, at high cost. The social and environmental costs are extremely high.
Rural mobility has many facets. It impacts people, communities, local economies, the environment and social justice. It extends beyond the remit of many ministries and their agencies. Despite this, it is generally treated as a transportation issue, but it goes much deeper.
In Ireland, various government departments and their agencies have policies and programs to develop rural areas and support the people who live there. However, many of their target beneficiaries do not have a practical or affordable way to access these services or facilities. Many of the supported businesses and facilities in rural areas can only be reached by car. These discrepancies clearly reduce the effectiveness of support programs, particularly for the most vulnerable.
From a mobility perspective, we face three major challenges:
– The challenge of social and community development: How are communities connected to the “outside world” and can their target users reach them?
– The personal mobility challenge: Can people in a community lead a decent life without depending on a car and in a way that is affordable?
– The energy and environmental challenge: Can we move from a car-dependent society to one that requires less metal movement and less energy consumption?
Unexpectedly, the events of the last few weeks have added another challenge. As fuel prices soar, many low- to middle-income households in rural areas are being hit hard. They don’t have the same public transport as in urban areas, so they have few options.
There comes a point when some households must make decisions about how to save on fuel and costs, and which trips to prioritize. They may have to travel less, take their children to fewer places, and socialize less.
It is clear that something must be done. But what and by whom?
Brendan Finn is transport advisor and speaker at the iRoute conference which opens tomorrow in Kilkenny. Visit eventbrite.ie for ticket sales information
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/transport-is-a-vital-enabler-for-our-rural-populations-41612150.html Transport is a vital factor for our rural population