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Providing public transport for rural communities

By Platform
Bus driving through rainy shopping street

Twenty-five percent of the EU population lives in rural areas, often with sparse populations and limited infrastructure. These issues make it challenging for authorities to provide cost-effective public transport, and even when provided, it may only run a few services a day, with long routes and many stops.

At the same time, these regions often attract a significant number of tourists who come to relax or take part in outdoor activities, usually reliant on private vehicles, which add to congestion, carbon emissions and air pollution.

How can regions provide sustainable public transport for these regions, taking account of both residents and tourists?

LAST MILE lessons for rural transport

This was the main challenge of the LAST MILE project, which explored ways to connect rural and touristic areas to transport hubs. For rural areas, this can mean the nearest hub town, which may have a bus or train station. The project investigated existing policy frameworks in its regions, the technical state-of-the-art of last mile transport options, and evaluated good practices identified from across Europe.

The resulting report concluded that demand-responsive transport services, which respond to specific needs and community preferences are a viable solution. These can take the form of:

  • On-demand shuttles
  • Dial-a-ride programmes
  • Community transport schemes.

Shared mobility was also recognised as a possible solution, with low-carbon vehicle rental options, including e-vehicle and bikes.

Connectivity between transport modes was also identified as a priority, as was the use of ICT technologies, including apps, websites, real-time transport information and digital payment platforms, and physical infrastructure to make public transport easier and more comfortable for users.

The project also emphasised that from a policy angle, flexible and on-demand transport needs to be clearly defined in national legislation, integrated into mobility planning, and included in funding programmes, where they are often overlooked.

Impacts on the ground

Acting on these lessons, LAST MILE's project partners have worked to improve their own policy frameworks and transfer good practices into their own regions.

In East Tyrol, new community busses with volunteer drivers and e-vehicle sharing stations were implemented, though these were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. After the pandemic, the Integrated Regional Development Strategy was updated to include specific provisions for last mile transport, including additional plans for e-bike sharing in tourism.

Meanwhile, Varna, in Bulgaria, committed to the development of a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan and changed its Regional Development Plan to include new concepts of last mile transport, with the intention of creating new flexible transport systems for the tourist season, and the creation of a tourism and mobility info-centre.

In Slovakia, the Integrated Regional Operational Programme was amended to include funding for new public transport infrastructure, such as bus shelters and bike racks, as well as the installation of a real-time information system. Kosice region also implemented a pilot action for equipping a bus with a bike carriage facility, which resulted in a reduced number of cars, and an increase in pedestrians and cyclists.

Additional resources


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Good practices on rural mobility are also available in several other Interreg Europe projects. This has also been explored by DESTI-SMART, which has also identified apps and platforms for encouraging active transport, as possible solutions.

While LAST MILE explored the movement of tourists in rural areas, other projects have also explored the issue of last mile transport in cities, with MATCH-UP and OptiTrans identifying solutions.

The new project SPOTLOG will also consider last mile challenges, but focusing on logistics and parcel delivery, while SMAPE explores the provision of shared mobility.

Sustainable mobility