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Transportation Roadblocks in Rural SD

Recent federal legislation reauthorizing the nation’s surface transportation programs in states designates rural and small communities as priority targets for improved transit services. South Dakota is slated to receive $12 million specifically for public transit. But a recent survey of those 50+, living in communities smaller than 3001 in South Dakota, suggests more funding may be needed.

See Also: AARP Survey of South Dakota Residents Ages 50+ Living in Sioux Falls

In 2010 one-third of the population in South Dakota was age 50 and older, and more than half of those 50 and older live in rural areas.

AARP South Dakota commissioned a survey earlier to learn more about the communities and experiences of those ages 50 and older residents living in small towns and rural areas on a variety of issues including transportation. The survey findings show South Dakotans age 50 and older living in small towns and rural areas indicate support for the state increasing funding for public transportation services to small towns or rural areas as well as for alternative transportation services for those unable to drive.

“Transportation plays a major role in helping people stay connected to their communities as well as live an independent life,” said Dennis Eisnach, volunteer state president for AARP South Dakota. “We know transportation is key when it comes to accessing health care, daily necessities and staying connected to friends and family. But, we also know it can be a real challenge, particularly in rural areas.”

To learn firsthand about these challenges, seven members of the AARP National Policy Council (NPC) which serves as advisors to the all volunteer AARP Board of Directors visited several communities in South Dakota, including two Native American Reservations. The committee visit health care providers, transit providers, government officials, and tribal leaders.

“We were able to see the existing transportation infrastructure, first hand, and we heard from a variety of stakeholders on the need to improve access, coordination and efficiencies of transportation and other services,” said Eisnach, who is also a member of the NPC Consumer & Livable Communities Committee.

“We saw examples of what’s being done well, and we saw how important it is to improve services, and coordination of services to vulnerable, older populations,” said Lynn Young, Chair of the Committee and an AARP volunteer leader from Meridian, Idaho.

AARP South Dakota Survey findings show:

  • Three-quarters of South Dakotans age 50 and older living in small towns and rural areas say it is extremely (38%) or very (35%) important to them that they remain in their community or area for as long as possible.
  • Two-thirds indicate that transportation services such as a one way, round trip or multiple stop rides is an extremely (28%) or very (37%) important service to help people remain in their own homes as they age.
  • Among respondents who have driven a car or motor vehicle in the last six months (96%), nearly six in ten (59%) are driving at least once a day but 40 percent say they drive several times a day. Moreover, four in ten (41%) say they drive 100 miles or more a week and one-third (33%) drive 125 miles or more in a typical week.
  • Two- thirds of respondents say it would be very (40%) or somewhat (26%) difficult for them to get where they want to go if they were no longer able to drive.
  • Over half (56%) of respondents indicated there is not adequate public transportation services in their community or area.

Moreover, if they were no longer able to drive their car, many respondents indicate a lack of family, friends, neighbors or coworkers who would be willing and able to drive them to the places they needed to go. In fact, significant proportions of these respondents cannot depend on family: one-quarter say their spouse or partner would not be able to help them; well over a third cannot rely on a child; and nearly half say other relatives or family would not be able to drive them where they need to go.

If you’ve experienced transportation challenges in your community, we’d like to hear from you. Email us at
to share your story and become involved in this issue.

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