Federal funding helps scheduled service from rural to urban areas

Did you know there’s a grant that allows you to schedule service from rural areas to urban ones? The 5311 (f) is a federal funding program that has proven successful in many states. Here’s what you need to know before applying.

What the grant aims to do

The 5311 (f) is a program that funds regularly scheduled service from rural areas to urban areas, and it requires the service to make a meaningful connection with a larger intercity carrier. And while the program is a federal one, states must choose to participate in the program, and each state is different in how they administer the program for their particular state.

Mark L Szyperski

According to U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration, the objectives of the program are “to support the connection between nonurbanized areas and the larger regional or national system of intercity bus service; support services to meet the intercity travel needs of residents in nonurbanized areas; support the infrastructure of the intercity bus network through planning and marketing assistance and capital investment in facilities.”

Not every state provides the same grant. Some grants are capital grants. Some are operational. But very few are both, although the State of Alabama does offer both operational, capital, and a separate grant strictly for marketing the routes, one of few states that offer a complete program like that.

One feature of the grant is a program that allows for funding based on unsubsidized miles if states wish to take advantage. This really feature really helps with making the grant go further in subsidizing the route. 

What the grant is not

The grant is not free money. It does not provide funds for a free bus or a new bus to be used for charter work. It is also not an airport service or a commuter service.

How can I get started?

The first thing to do is to find out everything you can about your state’s program.

Ask as many questions as possible, and then ask more. Contact your state’s Department of Transportation and ask who oversees the 5311 (f) program.

You may even find it in the search box in the corner of your state’s official website.

A few items to consider asking about your state:

  • Are they open to new routes?
  • Do they offer capital funds, operating funds or both?
  • Do they have separate marketing funding?
  • When does their program come up for renewal?
  • Do they allow unsubsidized miles as a part of the program?

What if I can’t receive funding this year?

If you find out you are unable to receive funding this year, don’t stop there. You can still look into other types of schedules to service your area.

Consider working with your local transit system and go to the area transit planning meetings, usually held at least once per quarter, or more. And look into commuter service with local transit, theme parks and airport services. Or maybe there’s a local brewery or winery with an opportunity for you to run service from the local hotels to the venues on a regular basis. 

Maybe there is an opening for you, or maybe there is a way to work with Greyhound, Trailways, Amtrak or a regional system. You don’t have to start with a brand new 56-passenger motorcoach to start a scheduled service, you just need to do your research, and then get it started. 

Our industry got its start with bus companies providing transportation for individuals between two points. In fact, many of the early bus companies were actually owned by railroad systems to bring passengers to their trains.  It’s past time to consider going back to our roots.

Mark Szyperski is the President and CEO of On Your Mark Transportation LLC, a consulting firm to the ground passenger transportation industry. With experience in transit, school bus, luxury transportation and motorcoaches, OYMT can bring a full range of extra services to an organization. Contact them at OnYourMarkTransportation.com or 615.669.0107.


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