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


This report describes the scope and scale of car access in rural areas, identifies barriers that rural zero-car and car-deficit households face in their mobility and access, and proposes personal and policy-level adaptations that would help these households achieve their mobility and access needs using descriptive analysis from US census microdata and interviews with 22 residents of California’s Central Valley. Results indicate that 5% of rural residents are fully carless and 18% live in a car-deficit household with less than one vehicle per adult. Both zero-car and car-deficit households tend to be in the Central Valley. Zero-car and car-deficit households in rural areas tend to be more socioeconomically disadvantaged than in nonrural areas. Both groups earn lower household incomes, are more likely to be Black, Latino, or Asian, have lower educational attainment, have more disabilities, have higher housing-cost burdens, and are more likely to be unemployed than their counterparts in nonrural areas. Almost half of workers in rural zero-car households drive alone to work compared to about a quarter in nonrural zero-car households, while mode shares are similar for car-deficit and car fully equipped households. Rural zero-car households are more likely to carpool and far less likely to take public transit. Three major themes emerged from the interviews. First, a commonality uniting the interview participants was the practice of relying on their social networks to get rides or obtain vehicle access. Second, the cost of car ownership and operation was high, placing vehicles out of reach for many. Third, alternatives to car access included public transit, medical transportation services, and car sharing, put poor availability often caused individuals to forgo trips. Interview participants shared a variety of options they saw as solutions to overcoming their barriers to lack of car access. While obtaining a vehicle was not absent from their preferred solutions, most preferred better personal access to transportation without the burden of private car ownership. The findings from demonstrate some of the complexities to consider when addressing transportation barriers in rural areas, where carlessness is less prevalent but solutions may be harder to implement than in urban areas.

Jesus M. Barajas
Jesus M. Barajas
Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy