Mobility Justice in Rural California: Examining Transportation Barriers and Adaptations in Carless Households

A transition to a more sustainable transportation system that supports multi-modal and clean transportation options in rural and urban fringe areas is fraught with difficulty. Public transit is rare or non-existent and distances to essential destinations are large, making car use practically a necessity. Nearly all rural households have cars, and rural residents make fewer trips but for longer distances by car compared to residents of other neighborhood types, reflecting lower access to destinations. However, people in zero-car rural households make fewer trips over shorter distances than people in rural households with at least one car, but make more and longer trips than urban zero-car households. These differences may reveal a higher degree of disadvantage for households without ready vehicle access, corroborated by research in Australia showing that rural residents were more likely to report not being able to do activities because of transportation challenges—even for households with cars. Moreover, rural areas may be left behind by a clean vehicle transition: residents of disadvantaged communities are much less likely to purchase electric vehicles, for example. The goal of this research is to identify how rural zero-car households in California meet their transportation needs, and what policy solutions might improve access and mobility for these households. While there has been previous research on barriers to transportation access in rural communities in the United States, much of this work focuses specifically on access to healthcare or on the broad conditions and policy approaches related to travel challenges outside urban areas. This study will begin with a quantitative characterization of the rural zero-car population in California, followed by a qualitative evaluation of the travel burdens faced by households without cars, with a particular focus in the rural San Joaquin Valley of California.

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