Mobility transition in Rural Areas: The Taxi for the Last Mile?

Welcome to the new world of mobility: taking the subway to Berlin Central Station, the ICE to Cologne, and then using a car-sharing or ride-sharing app to reach the destination. In the city, giving up your own car is not difficult. Whether it's public transport, car-sharing, or sharing options like e-scooters and e-bikes, there are plenty of alternatives. In rural areas, it gets more challenging. What could the mobility transition look like here?

In rural areas, almost everyone with a driver's license also owns a car. Distances are vast, buses run infrequently, and those who need to transfer must be patient. Owning a car here mainly promises freedom and flexibility. In many rural communities, there are 700 cars for every 1,000 residents. This means, statistically, that every eligible driver has more than two cars available. These people won't just switch to buses if the county increases the number of bus services.

Competitive alternatives need to be fast, affordable, and convenient. At the same time, the service must be inclusive, accommodating all demographic groups, cost-efficient, and tailored to the needs of cash-strapped municipalities. This raises the question of whether public transportation should still be operated with buses and trains in rural areas, or if other solutions are necessary to minimize CO2 emissions.

After all, the federal government aims to significantly reduce emissions in the transport sector by 2030. The bulk of these emissions come from road traffic, especially cars and trucks. How can rural mobility become more sustainable? While city dwellers debate the most sustainable mobility mix for the future, this question often doesn't arise for people in rural areas. Reasonable alternatives to cars are rare here. People will only switch if there are reliable and affordable options.

The Last Mile is Often Long in Rural Areas

Especially during off-peak times, there are significant service gaps. The last bus to the station often leaves before 6 PM. Those who want to go out in the evening or live in particularly remote areas have a tough time. More people would likely use public transport if it operated later. But even if they catch the train, there's still the journey from the stop to home, which is often long. This is where services are lacking.

Public Transport on Demand

What could the service look like? Besides bicycle stations at the station or station-based e-scooter or car-sharing services, on-demand services can especially help. Instead of large buses that run on fixed schedules, compact cars similar to taxis that can be booked at affordable rates or through subscriptions via an app could be the future of public transport in rural areas.

More buses are not the better solution. Even an additional bus, if it comes and is electric, won't carry passengers because those passengers are living their lives elsewhere. Instead, there needs to be a service that picks people up at their door and takes them where they want to go. These transport services must be designed to pick up passengers in groups, not individually. These are on-demand services where a car actually comes. If five people ride in one car, that's better than five people in five cars.

Taxis as a Public Transport Offering Sound Very Expensive. How Should It Be Funded?

The bus, as it currently operates, costs a lot of money too. Experts estimate that a kilometer in a conventional diesel bus, including system costs, costs about 3.50 euros. The taxi costs only 2.90 euros per kilometer. Subsidizing taxis through the public transport tariff would thus be cheaper than running a bus. The bus is only cost-efficient when it's full, which is rarely the case in rural areas except for school transport. Currently, mainly people who have no alternative use the bus: students, apprentices, or people without a driver's license.

For the traffic transformation in rural areas, this means: To get people out of their own cars, there needs to be a better car available as a flexibly organized service. This means they will be picked up as they wish, like with their own car. The goal is, for example, a large bus or train station, from where people can continue to the next station to the city.

For the high demand for taxis, there may already be solutions in a few years: so-called robo-taxis, which are already undertaking daily journeys in the USA and China. This way, rural areas can be served by cars that no longer have drivers.

Stefan Wendering
Stefan is a freelance writer and editor at NAVIT. Previously, he worked for startups and in the mobility cosmos. He is an expert in urban and sustainable mobility, employee benefits and new work. Besides blog content, he also creates marketing materials, taglines and content for websites and case studies.

Welcome to the new world of mobility: taking the subway to Berlin Central Station, the ICE to Cologne, and then using a car-sharing or ride-sharing app to reach the destination. In the city, giving up your own car is not difficult. Whether it's public transport, car-sharing, or sharing options like e-scooters and e-bikes, there are plenty of alternatives. In rural areas, it gets more challenging. What could the mobility transition look like here?

In rural areas, almost everyone with a driver's license also owns a car. Distances are vast, buses run infrequently, and those who need to transfer must be patient. Owning a car here mainly promises freedom and flexibility. In many rural communities, there are 700 cars for every 1,000 residents. This means, statistically, that every eligible driver has more than two cars available. These people won't just switch to buses if the county increases the number of bus services.

Competitive alternatives need to be fast, affordable, and convenient. At the same time, the service must be inclusive, accommodating all demographic groups, cost-efficient, and tailored to the needs of cash-strapped municipalities. This raises the question of whether public transportation should still be operated with buses and trains in rural areas, or if other solutions are necessary to minimize CO2 emissions.

After all, the federal government aims to significantly reduce emissions in the transport sector by 2030. The bulk of these emissions come from road traffic, especially cars and trucks. How can rural mobility become more sustainable? While city dwellers debate the most sustainable mobility mix for the future, this question often doesn't arise for people in rural areas. Reasonable alternatives to cars are rare here. People will only switch if there are reliable and affordable options.

The Last Mile is Often Long in Rural Areas

Especially during off-peak times, there are significant service gaps. The last bus to the station often leaves before 6 PM. Those who want to go out in the evening or live in particularly remote areas have a tough time. More people would likely use public transport if it operated later. But even if they catch the train, there's still the journey from the stop to home, which is often long. This is where services are lacking.

Public Transport on Demand

What could the service look like? Besides bicycle stations at the station or station-based e-scooter or car-sharing services, on-demand services can especially help. Instead of large buses that run on fixed schedules, compact cars similar to taxis that can be booked at affordable rates or through subscriptions via an app could be the future of public transport in rural areas.

More buses are not the better solution. Even an additional bus, if it comes and is electric, won't carry passengers because those passengers are living their lives elsewhere. Instead, there needs to be a service that picks people up at their door and takes them where they want to go. These transport services must be designed to pick up passengers in groups, not individually. These are on-demand services where a car actually comes. If five people ride in one car, that's better than five people in five cars.

Taxis as a Public Transport Offering Sound Very Expensive. How Should It Be Funded?

The bus, as it currently operates, costs a lot of money too. Experts estimate that a kilometer in a conventional diesel bus, including system costs, costs about 3.50 euros. The taxi costs only 2.90 euros per kilometer. Subsidizing taxis through the public transport tariff would thus be cheaper than running a bus. The bus is only cost-efficient when it's full, which is rarely the case in rural areas except for school transport. Currently, mainly people who have no alternative use the bus: students, apprentices, or people without a driver's license.

For the traffic transformation in rural areas, this means: To get people out of their own cars, there needs to be a better car available as a flexibly organized service. This means they will be picked up as they wish, like with their own car. The goal is, for example, a large bus or train station, from where people can continue to the next station to the city.

For the high demand for taxis, there may already be solutions in a few years: so-called robo-taxis, which are already undertaking daily journeys in the USA and China. This way, rural areas can be served by cars that no longer have drivers.