Guest post by Vicki Rusbult, EdD, Eastern Maine Development Corporation
This post describes dissertation research completed in 2016 on rural transportation. Download the full document here for more information.
Maine has the distinction of being a beautiful state defined by natural forests, crystal-clear lakes, and a landscape unblemished by the usual marks of the densely populated regions of the U.S. The downside to this rural beauty is the remoteness of the sparsely populated communities which present challenges to residents who are unable to drive themselves to procure basic services because of physical, legal, or economic conditions.
Many rural residents are unable to rely on personally-owned, single driver vehicles. According to the Maine Department of Transportation Bureau of Planning (2013), the Eastern Maine region has an estimated unmet need (number of trips needed compared to available services) of 75% (Penobscot County) and 84% (Piscataquis County). The recent reduction in the cost of gasoline has made travel more affordable, but the reality is that many can’t afford the purchase price tag, insurance, and/or maintenance costs to keep their vehicle on the road. The funding trends at the state and local levels will not support an expansion of public transportation to bring rural residents to hub centers for social services, healthcare, school, employment or other destination points. As noted in the Maine Department of Transportation Final Strategic Plan 2025 (2015, p. 13), federal funding in rural regions has remained at 2012 levels, and there is little local funding support for rural transit systems operating outside the more urban cities of Bangor and Ellsworth.
A review of the literature on transportation challenges and barriers, particularly in respect to the sparsely populated region of Eastern Maine, provided the basis for this grounded theory qualitative study. A series of thirteen interviews were performed with study participants living in Eastern Maine who were characterized by one or more of the following traits: Low-income; elderly; medically restricted; student; and commuting worker. The results of the study provide insight into factors contributing to the gap, and whether a transportation management association (TMA) and rideshare boards represent reasonable solutions. The study also suggests methods to encourage use of alternative solutions to get Eastern Maine residents to their destinations.