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History of National RTAP

Smaller class bus at a wooden bridge

Millions of rural and tribal citizens are unable to drive for health, economic or lifestyle reasons.  Transit is a real solution to maintaining a high quality of life in rural areas—providing access to jobs, healthcare, education, shopping and numerous other activities utilizing public transportation. Since 1979, FTA has provided formula funding to states, under the Section 5311 Non-urbanized Transit Program, to establish and maintain transit systems in communities with populations under 50,000.

Soon after, program founders recognized that community transit drivers, dispatchers, maintenance workers, managers and board members needed special skills and knowledge to provide quality service to their diverse customers across large service areas. As a result, the Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP) was created in 1987.

The Formula Program for Rural Areas (MAP-21’s new name for the Section 5311 program) provides funding for the RTAP program. A portion of the funding is reserved for National RTAP; the remainder is distributed to the states by formula. 

The goals of the RTAP program are to promote the safe and effective delivery of public transportation services in rural areas and to facilitate more efficient use of public transportation resources. To meet those goals, the program focuses on the following objectives:

  • Improving the quality of training and technical assistance resources available to the rural transit industry
  • Encouraging and assisting state, local, and peer networks to address training and technical assistance needs
  • Promoting the coordination of transportation services
  • Building a national database of information about the rural transit industry   

Since its inception, National RTAP has contributed to the achievement of these objectives at the national level by developing and distributing training materials, providing technical assistance, creating web-based applications, producing reports, publishing best practices, conducting research, and offering peer assistance for rural and tribal transit providers and state RTAP programs.

Photo credit: Carla Cleveland, Blount County Public Transportation; Oneonta, AL

Our Mission

National RTAP conference meeting

National RTAP operates today under a cooperative agreement between the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Neponset Valley Transportation Management Association. Our overarching mission is to address the training and technical assistance needs of rural, and tribal transit operators across the nation, and to support the state RTAP programs. Our comprehensive set of free technical assistance programs and resources includes training materials, webinars, newsletters and technical briefs, peer resources, research, and innovative technology initiatives.

Photo credit: Cindy Frene, National RTAP