In many rural communities in Indiana, there is a gap in transit between and within communities.
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The Indiana Department of Transportation’s Rural Transit program is one resource provided to connect these local counties and communities to federal resources.
Natalie Garrett is a communications specialist with INDOT. She said the program uses grants from the Federal Transit Administration to expand access to transportation in rural communities.
“It's usually somewhere between $16 million and $18 million annually, those funds are allocated to locals,” Garrett said.
The money is allocated to city and county systems – where these local groups can then give the funding to nonprofit organizations or groups that run local transit systems and programs.
She added there is a 50 percent match requirement at the local level as part of the grant funding.
Garrett said the program provides the funds to local communities to create different forms of transportation for its residents.
“Many are along kind of a fixed route, throughout a county or given area, there are some systems that cover multiple counties, or it just kind of depends on the agency that facilitates and runs the program,” she said.
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Garrett said these types of programs are vital for communities, as many lack this kind of transportation.
“There are around 20 to 25 counties in Indiana that do not have any form of rural transit,” she said. “So you know, we want to fill those gaps, we want to provide this resource for all residents of Indiana.”
She said programs like Catch-a-Ride in southern Indiana facilitate transport between and within counties and can involve residents requesting rides by contacting the service.
Garrett said INDOT had initially had a broad goal for expanded rural transit, but COVID-19 has affected this initial goal.
“Our end goal is to have some form of rural transit in all 92 counties, we set a timeline–a goal of by 2030, then COVID came in and COVID kind of wreaked havoc on public transit in general,” she said.
Garrett said there is a nationwide driver shortage as a result of the pandemic and that many forms of public transit – even those within big cities – are suffering as a result.
INDOT has published its research on transportation and more information about these rural transit programs on their website.