Jason Graening of Loudon County, Tennessee, uses the East Tennessee Human Resources Agency transit to reach personal and medical appointments.

How we define “rural” is more than an academic exercise.
The East Tennessee Human Resource Agency (ETHRA) learned this lesson earlier this summer when they lost some of their federal funding for transportation services they provide to people living around Knoxville, Tennessee.

The funds came as part of a federal rural transit program. But communities served by that van shuttle service had grown in population – enough so that the 2010 Census said they were no longer rural under the definition that the transit program uses.

About 1,300 riders in small cities around Knoxville were served by the program affected by the funding cuts.

Local officials found a way around the funding impasse, however. Earlier this summer the City of Knoxville and the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization made an arrangement for stopgap funding to keep the ETHRA vans running to the formerly rural areas. The funding will give ETHRA six months – enough time for the agency to apply for federal funding as an urban provider.
Like many rural transit services, ETHRA receives funds from a variety of sources. The mixture of funds supports about 280,000 rides a year.

Rider Jason Graening of Loudon depends on the shuttles to get to health appointments and shopping. He’s also started a physical-therapy program at a horse-riding stable. “It’s so beneficial and I just love it,” he said. “I really wouldn’t be able to do any of that if there weren’t that bus service in the area.”

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