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Content archived on 2024-06-10

Verifying and strengthening rural access to transport services


The overall aim of VIRGIL was to verify and to improve the access to services and transport in rural areas, by:

* identifying and disseminating good practices and experiences on rural access to transport, with emphasis on door to door solutions for transport of people and goods;
* identifying further research needs in the field, after a broad consultation round, which includes a large variety of key stakeholders.
General status of rural transport in Europe
The first section of the present report presents a general overview of the status of rural transport in the partner countries from the VIRGIL project. This includes jurisdiction on rural transport, policy and main service provisions.

(table may be obtained from the contractor)

3. In depth analysis and sectoral analysis
Consequently an in depth analysis of the best selected cases was carried out as well as a sectoral analysis. The identified potential cases were analysed in more detail with regard to their operational and financial viability, inputs and outputs required and the legal basis for their operation..

According to the main conclusions of the in-depth and sectoral analyses, the use of telematics in the demand responsive rural transport services is still at a preliminary phase, especially with regard to map and route applications and the use of other software. On the other hand, the use of mobile phones is very common. The need of telematics is largely dependent on the need for flexibility of the transport service. Regular public transport with a fixed itinerary and timetable is less dependent on telematics. Transport services, such as the demand-responsive systems, use telematics because of its need to be flexible towards routing, timetable and stops. Clearly, telematics provide possibilities for combining trips, integrating different user groups and providing cost savings in automated generation of management information, payments and reservations.

There are plenty of possibilities that have not been used in combining the passenger and freight transport services. Before a freight/passenger transport combination can be fully developed, conditions should be established which make such a system attractive to private and/or public operators. First, the legal framework should be developed by showing the advantages to both sectors. The most profound impact of a change in legislation would be the liberalisation of the entire operating conditions for freight and passenger transport. Secondly, an efficient matching system between the needs of freight and people movements should be developed. Through the demand responsive systems, even more infrequent combinations of passenger and freight transports could be developed. The integration of freight and passenger transport is especially important in longer travelling distances where the benefit to co-ordinate the two different kinds of services can effectively balance the costs to manage the integrated transport.

The strategies dealing with the integration of multipurpose transport services between administrative sectors (i.e. transport services for different target groups simultaneously) are poorly developed at the European level. Consolidating the legal or administrative responsibility for transport services under a single body would be a useful first step in countries where this integration has not been implemented yet. School transport has the greatest potential for the development of multi purpose services: it is not technologically demanding and at the same time it is widely provided all over Europe. However these measures would require more advanced operation control and reservation centres, able to handle various types of travel requests.I.e. both stop to stop trips, door to door trips, chartered tours etc. have to be booked in one single system, whereas currently different reservation and routing systems or manual booking are applied by the operators.

4. Consultation round with key stakeholders
This consultation round moved the work of the VIRGIL Project from the past into the future. Key stakeholders were surveyed and interviewed to identify their needs, and this resulted in the development of future action research proposals.

The key findings are given below:

4.1. Policies, strategies and programmes.
There are common aspects amongst the policies, strategies and programmes currently in place and under consideration. The key ones with regard to rural development are the importance of maintaining the level of the rural population and to ensure that viable economic and social activities remain located within rural communities. This is reflected in the equality policies in Finland, the 'basic mobility' policy in Belgium and the 'rural proofing' policy in Ireland.

The consultation with key stakeholders has drawn out the transport policies, strategies and programmes at local, regional and national levels in the VIRGIL partners' countries. There is a wide variety amongst the countries concerned, ranging from the comprehensive approach in The Netherlands with minimum levels of service for different sizes of population to the interurban networks operated mainly by public companies in Greece and Ireland where there are few very local rural transport services. In both Sweden and Finland, a key trend in the provision of rural transport has been the integration at local level of transport services for different groups in the population (school children, social welfare clients, the general public) and the use of telematics to assist in the scheduling and co-ordination of local services. Such services give a major role for taxis, which also feature strongly in rural services in Spain.

Another major trend relates to the way in which public transport is organised and financed. This is reflected in the delegation of responsibilities for planning and purchasing of public transport from the national level to the regional and local levels. This is particularly noticeable in Sweden, Finland, The Netherlands, Italy and Belgium, although this situation has existed in Britain for over twenty years in one way or another. This contrasts starkly with the situation in Ireland where the main public transport operator is still owned by the State at national level and the State at national level is responsible for licensing and financial support. The decentralised approach has also caused the regional and local authorities to consider the potential for a more co-ordinated approach to the planning, purchasing and delivery of a range of passenger transport services. This approach has also enabled local communities to become more involved in the delivery of local transport services. Examples of this are very evident in Britain with specific regulations for the operation of Community Buses and the development of local transport partnerships and also in The Netherlands, where Buurtbuses driven by volunteers are integrated into the public transport networks and timetables.

The decentralised approach has also involved services being secured under contract following a tendering process, either on a network basis, as in Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Italy or on a route/service basis for non-commercial services, as in Britain.

4.2. Future transport research needs.
A key aspect of the need for future research will be to concentrate on determining demand, including latent demand, identifying the wide range of people and trip purposes and designing appropriate levels of service and types of service.

The future research related to these issues will have to include:
* the ways in which very local services can be integrated more effectively at local level and how they complement and interchange with longer distance (inter-urban) services
* the licensing environment for demand responsive services and the ways in which taxis can be incorporated into demand responsive service operations
* the institutional, legal and administrative barriers and implications associated with multi-functional cross-agency services
* the role of telematics, especially the thresholds at which different levels of sophistication are required (building upon the experience gained in the SAMPLUS project for example); this applies to the scheduling and management aspects for the operators and the information and booking aspects for the users
* designing more user friendly facilities, from bus stops through to local interchanges, as well as vehicle and service accessibility

Particular attention will have to be paid to the more sparsely populated areas, as they are likely to lose out in the new environment of liberalisation of transport operations and decentralisation of responsibility for planning and purchasing transport services.

5. Further research needs
In the "research needs" section the output from the previous sections was used to identify future research topics concerning rural access to services and rural transport.

Four different topics for further research needs on rural transport have been identified:

1 Innovative combinations of public transport services in rural areas
2 Legal, institutional and operational framework requirements in rural public transport
3 Rural community impacts of rural public transport services
4 Application of telematics (Information and Communication Technologies, ICT) in rural public transport systems

5.1. Innovative combinations of public transport services in rural areas
In rural areas the combination of low population and geographical isolation means that conventional approaches to passenger transport, based on people travelling together, gradually lose their viability. Throughout Europe there are various public transport concepts in rural areas, trying to challenge and solve the specific rural problems of obtaining value for money and a better staff and vehicle capacity utilisation. It is though likely that not all combinations between different services, user groups and travel purposes will have been identified and therefore analysed. In general, all the innovative systems, which enable or promote living in rural areas, where services (schools, hospitals, entertainment places, etc) are very sparse, are of exceptional importance. The positive impact of integrated, multipurpose transport services between administrative sectors at the public transport service level, the vehicle capacity utilisation and the transport costs contributes to a major interest in a further development of this task. Linked to the total integration of different services are the institutional, operational and legal requirements, which can be a barrier to integration. In addition, the viability of rural areas is dependent on access to service. New ways of using the combination of passengers and goods are of great interest for rural areas to obtain and strengthen their survival. As tourism has become a major occupation of inhabitants of several rural areas, the combination of goods (equipment such as bicycles and luggage) and passenger transportation is as well of great importance in this sector. Furthermore, there is a recent development of a reverse population movement from urban to rural areas, which also demands new solutions to providing services. Linked to these issues is how to make use of the rapidly developing opportunities of telematics applications, e.g. to manage the goods distribution as well as providing information about the transport service for tourists.

5.2. Legal, institutional and operational framework requirements in rural public transport
Rural transport is still a regulated service in all EU states; the degree of regulation varies from countries with extensive deregulation policies (like the UK) to countries with monopolistic situations (like Spain). This regulation severely limits the ability of interested parties to develop flexible solutions to the problems they face. In order to undertake any policy formulation effort it is necessary to have precise knowledge of the regulatory framework in force in countries, which have already implemented deregulation policies. Furthermore, the co-operation between administrative sectors is essential when implementing e.g. publicly funded multipurpose transport services, which will provide cost savings. These types of integration strategies are poorly developed in Europe. There is a need to investigate the most suitable structure for legal requirements and administrative responsibility to facilitate co-operation and integration. In many countries throughout Europe there is a need to combine freight and passenger transport. The main issues in preventing the integration of freight and passenger transport are the legislative barriers. Usually, the existing laws do not allow for the combination of freight and passenger transport in a systematic way. These combined services might be considered to compete directly with conventional transport licenses, mostly bus lines and taxis or freight agents.

5.3. Rural community impacts of rural public transport services
The interaction between transport services and socio-economic development in rural communities is somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, improvements in transport services will lead to increased mobility, which have a positive impact on the social and economic development of a particular region by encouraging the relocation of people and additional small enterprises. On the other hand, socio-economic programmes influence the need for transport. Improving rural transport services is seen as a development and wealth redistribution policy. This situation highlights the need for detailed knowledge of the complex nature of the interaction and methodologies to assess existing and future transport service systems. Decision-makers in public transport planning increasingly require not only the information, mentioned above, about how to develop and supply an ideal public transport solution in rural areas, but also the possibility to investigate and identify which requirements and needs a modern rural public transport service have to fulfil to keep customers and attract new ones. This can only be defined if different groups of rural dwellers can be identified and the respective requests and obstacles measured and assessed.

5.4. Application of telematics in rural public transport systems.
There is significant evidence from previous research that few of the rural services throughout Europe make extensive use of telematics. Even in countries where applications of telematics in public transport and in general are more common, the transportation measures in rural areas are often "low-tech". An explanation for this fact is that many times small communities are involved, where residents know each other. These users, often elderly, prefer to talk to the operator booking the service and have a more personal relationship with the driver. The growing popularity of schemes involving volunteers confirms the increased need for social interaction. On the other hand there is a recent development of a reverse population movement from urban to rural areas. These are professionals who take advantage of the explosion in mobile communications and the Internet. Many of them are "tele-workers", who work from rural home offices or "tele-cottages" part- or full-time. These new rural residents are not only familiar with information technology but are early adopters and are potential rural public transport users that will give new life and viability to existing services. Another area where telematics can be introduced is when integrating passengers and goods. For big delivery companies serving the rural customer is very costly, since it usually involves sending a truck from a regional centre for a single delivery. Furthermore, transport operators in rural areas have the comparative advantage of being familiar with a wide area. Moreover operators of on-demand systems often know where their customers live and are able to deliver a vehicle to their place of residence or very close to it, within a specified time frame. These characteristics are similar to the requirements of a door-to-door delivery service. Considering this information, the possibility of combining passenger and goods transport on rural services with the administrative help from telematics applications should be researched. Additionally the service should extend to offer delivery or pickup of goods to the door. New generations of shoppers, who order online, require that delivery times are kept relatively short. As long as the biggest volume of Internet shopping involves items such as books and CDs that are small and not sensitive to external conditions, e.g. temperature changes, Passenger service operators can easily undertake the rural leg of a delivery. In countries, where use of telematics is not that widespread, the social and educational characteristics of the rural population make the adoption of new technologies difficult. Therefore, every measure that relies on introduction of new technologies in rural areas should include a provision for training of the users. In transportation of passengers as well as goods, this also includes operators.

6. Additional information: website and deliverables
Additional information can be consulted on the VIRGIL website:

The following deliverables are available for comprehensive information on the project:

- D1. 'Overview of best practices in rural transport'. Report on the results of WP1.
- D2. 'In-depth analysis of selected cases, including sectorial analysis'. Report on the results of WP2
- D3. 'Report of surveys with stakeholders'. Report of the results of WP3.
- D4. 'Good practice Handbook'
Languages: English, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Swedish.
- D5. 'Final report, including report on further research needs.'
There are direct links with the Commission Communication 'Developing the Citizen's Network'. At project level, the project is linked with the SAMPO and SCRIPT projects (DG XIII). A cooperation will be established with the ERANTIS project funded by DG XVII. The project results will feed into the Commission sponsored ELTIS information service.

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