Rural Communities Want Clean Transportation, Too

A proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative policy would deploy clean transportation options in rural, suburban, and urban areas of the Eastern U.S.

Photo: yoav hornung on Unsplash

There’s good news for transportation sufferers from a new Nature Conservancy poll that shows it’s not only urban residents who demand clean and safe transportation—rural residents do, too—and why a state-led effort to modernize transportation in rural, suburban, and urban areas in the Eastern U.S. is so important: it can improve people’s lives.  

The survey of rural and small-town voters in 12 Eastern states—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia—reveals overwhelming support for more convenient and less-polluting transportation choices. Among the results:

  • Majorities of rural and small-town voters in every state are displeased with the current transportation system and would assign it a grade of “C” or lower; and
  • Seventy-five percent of small-town and rural voters would “support a proposal that would reduce pollution, expand public transportation, create incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles, and safe ways for people to walk and bike, including in small towns and rural areas of the state.”

What’s more, two-thirds of rural and small-town voters would be willing to pay more than they are now to help fund these clean transportation choices, revealing strong support for improvements to the status quo. This willingness to help fund a clean transportation system holds up across demographics with majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans; young and old; women and men; and both voters of color and white voters voicing support.

This poll comes as the 12 states, and the city of Washington, D.C., are working together, as part of a coalition known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, to develop a regional policy solution to the wide-ranging transportation woes their residents face. From traffic jams and crumbling infrastructure to polluting vehicles, unsafe streets, and inadequate public transportation, the region’s transportation challenges are numerous and well-known.

As The Nature Conservancy’s poll and NRDC’s Transportation Reimagined report show, rural areas also face unique transportation problems. Rural residents must drive further distances to get to work, school, shopping, and services, leading to higher transportation expenses that stretch household budgets and prevent many residents from accessing economic opportunities and healthcare. With aging rural populations, inadequate public transit and paratransit services threaten to isolate growing numbers of elderly and disabled residents.

But while our current transportation system is failing us, this doesn’t have to be our future. NRDC’s report shows there are proven clean transportation solutions Eastern states could deploy to make residents’ lives better, including in rural areas. Providing more transportation choices can help more residents get where they need to go, and the switch to emissions-free electric vehicles can reduce transportation costs because they’re cheaper to operate per mile.

The polling of rural and small-town voters reveals support for a broad range of clean transportation solutions in every state, including improved high-speed Internet access to reduce the need to drive; increased public transportation options, including trains, buses, and van services; revitalized town centers and main streets; replacing polluting diesel school buses with electric models; and incentives and infrastructure investments to make electric cars and trucks more accessible and affordable.

While 83 percent of rural and small-town voters currently respond that they “have no choice but to drive as much as a I do,” that doesn’t mean they’re resigned to the failures of the system we have. Just like their urban and suburban counterparts, rural residents want improved public transportation, zero-emissions electric vehicles, and safe walkable and bikeable streets. They also recognize the urgent need to address the climate crisis, with voters responding that their support for a clean transportation fund is primarily for environmental reasons, including reductions in climate-harming carbon pollution, even as they also see numerous other potential benefits for safety, access, and jobs.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative states are developing a regional policy that would slash carbon pollution, by holding large suppliers of fossil fuels accountable for the pollution they cause and investing in clean transportation solutions throughout the region. As they do so, they should heed the call of residents, including in rural areas and small towns, who want a clean transportation system that makes our planet healthier and people’s lives better.

If you live in one of these states or Washington, D.C., click here to send your governor (or mayor) a letter supporting this groundbreaking effort to bring clean transportation to rural, suburban, and urban areas throughout the region.

About the Authors

Bruce Ho

Deputy Director, Eastern Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program
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