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Blog Post 16 August 2022

Making rural transport more accessible: the local authority toolkit

To achieve the UK Government’s net zero by 2050 targets, local authorities need to take action to decarbonise transport. Both rural and remote communities face transport challenges that urban communities may not, including difficulties in accessing public transport, a high reliance on private cars, and a lack of safe walking and cycling routes.

Over the last year, we have worked with the Department for Transport to launch the local authority transport decarbonisation toolkit for the UK. This new toolkit gives councils helpful guidance on how to cut carbon emissions from transport with a range of case studies and local advice.

In this blog, we take a closer look at some of the specific challenges faced by rural areas when decarbonising transport, the opportunities for community groups to develop sustainable transport options, and how the toolkit can benefit local communities.

Challenges for sustainable travel in rural areas

The UK Government’s Future of Transport programme – which aims to find new and better ways to travel – found that dependence on private cars is higher in rural areas due to a lack of both public transport and active travel routes between towns and villages. This leads to increased social isolation, as well as lack of access to services, particularly for elderly and young people.

Recent government research into accessibility when travelling also found that rural areas are often not set up for active travel modes, such as walking, wheeling and cycling. Residents in these communities have to make longer journeys on narrower roads with fast-moving traffic, and there are few dedicated active travel routes, which means car travel is the most common method of transport. In fact, some rural and remote areas can only be reached by car.

This not only makes it more difficult for residents to access basic amenities and services, but also makes deliveries to those areas more complex.

Opportunities for sustainable travel in rural areas

There are several ways that rural communities can develop sustainable transport networks to meet travel demand and provide more environmentally conscious ways to travel.

Try out new technologies

The forthcoming Future of Transport: Rural Strategy will focus on enabling technology to help develop greener and more inclusive transport systems in rural areas to improve connectivity. This will include new and emerging technologies such as electric bikes, electric cargo bikes, connected fleet vehicles (whose location and performance data links in real time to their depot), and delivery of parcels by drones.

Test on-demand bus services

The Rural Mobility Fund has provided £20 million across 17 local authorities in England to trial on-demand bus services for rural areas to build on demand-responsive public transport services. These services support community needs, by expanding bus services to drop off closer to where people live and at more convenient times.

Deliver options for tourists

Rural communities can work with transport partners, such as bus companies, bikeshare providers and car clubs, to offer services from train stations or other local transport hubs. These services can encourage visitors to use sustainable transport and will help to decarbonise tourism.

Walking, wheeling and cycling in rural areas

A key priority for the UK and devolved government is promoting active travel, through encouraging communities to invest in and implement affordable and active ways of travelling – for example, by using cycles, electric bikes or ecargo bikes.

It’s important that cycling is accessible to rural communities as a more affordable way to get around, but also to encourage behaviour change within the local area. These behaviour changes in communities will encourage healthier habits and help to reduce carbon emissions from transport.

The transport in rural areas toolkit provides examples of how some rural local authorities are encouraging more sustainable travel. South Gloucestershire Council, for example, is working with Around Your Way to encourage residents in new housing developments to choose active travel options. The council provided guides on local walking and cycle routes, developed travel services and events such as bike servicing days, and lists a range of free offers to encourage people to start travelling actively and sustainably.

How can the toolkit benefit your local authority?

While rural areas face very different challenges compared to urban areas when it comes to decarbonising transport, they also allow for innovation and new opportunities, particularly for community groups.

The transport in rural areas: local authority toolkit offers insights, case studies and routes to help communities and local authorities in rural areas effectively implement measures to decarbonise transport.

At Energy Saving Trust, we are continuing to work with the Department for Transport to ensure that the toolkit content is up to date and relevant for local authorities. If there is something you would like to see in the toolkit, please get in touch with us at

For those in England, our Local Government Support Programme can also offer help to local authorities looking to decarbonise tourism in their local area. Contact the team at to find out more.

Last updated: 12 August 2022