February 16, 2011 / 9:24 PM / 9 years ago

Rural access to intercity transportation declining

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Some 3.5 million rural residents lost access to scheduled public transit service to cities in the past five years due in part to cuts at Greyhound and Amtrak, a Transportation Department report released Wednesday said.

The report comes as the Congress debates funding for aviation services, including a proposal from Republican Senator John McCain to eliminate federal subsidies airlines receive to ensure passenger services to rural communities.

About 71.7 million rural residents, or 89 percent of the total, had access to air, bus, ferry or rail transportation to cities in September 2010, down from 93.3 percent in 2005, a Bureau of Transportation Statistics analysis showed.

The steepest drop in access came in southern states.

Some 700,000 rural Alabama residents lost scheduled transit service to urban centers in the past five years, dropping to 65 percent coverage, from 94 percent, the study found.

More than 400,000 rural Georgia residents lost any access and 272,000 rural Mississippi residents last options.

The most coverage in general was available in the Northeast where Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut all had a large percentage of rural residents covered by three or more modes of transportation, the study found.

Buses covered 78 percent of the total rural U.S. population in 2010, down from 89 percent in 2005, with route cuts particularly in southern states, central states and some Atlantic states, the report found.

Air service coverage was unchanged in the five-year period at 72 percent of rural residents, while rail service coverage slipped to 40 percent from 42 percent.

Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Jerry Norton

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