Small Urban and Rural Center on Mobility

Research Report – Tribal Transit Study: Demographic Needs Indicators, Funding Needs, and Livability

A study published by SURCOM analyzes the geographic, demographic, and transit related data in tribal communities, with a focus on federally recognized tribes in the lower 48 states. The geographic and demographic characteristics of a given area directly affect transit. Tribal lands are mostly rural with low population densities. Moreover, the share of the population often described as transit dependent, which includes seniors, people with disabilities, those with low income, youth, and households without automobiles, is often higher for tribal areas. This study also explored the concept of livability and transportation’s role in improving livability. Two case studies were conducted with Standing Rock Reservation and Makah Tribe to understand the factors that residents think are important for livability, describe the quality of livability factors within these communities based on residents’ perceptions, and explore how transit and other transportation factors contribute to livability.

The objectives of this research are to study the demographics of tribal communities that relate to transportation needs, describe and evaluate existing tribal transit operations and funding, and examine the role of transit in livability and quality of life in tribal communities in the United States.

Results from the study have shown that tribal areas have a disproportionately higher percentage of some of the transit dependent population groups. Across tribal areas, 28% of the population is below the poverty level, which is twice the U.S. total of 14%. The number of tribal transit systems and level of service has increased the past two decades as federal funding has increased, though the number of agencies and ridership levels have plateaued since 2015. Results from the two tribal community case studies showed many areas in which livability could be improved, most notably affordable housing, available jobs, and quality healthcare.

The full report, executive summary, and video summary can be found at the link below:

Tribal Transit Study: Demographic Needs Indicators, Funding Needs, and Livability

For more details, contact Ranjit Godavarthy at

Leave a Comment