The National Academies

NCHRP 20-65/Task 78 [Active]

 Impact of Decline in Volunteerism on Rural Transit Systems
[ NCHRP 20-65 (Research for the AASHTO Standing Committee on Public Transportation) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $99,943
Research Agency: AECOM
Principal Investigator: Toni A. Horst
Effective Date: 8/24/2019
Completion Date: 5/23/2021

In the United States (US), volunteers are vital to the sustained operation of many small, rural transit agencies. Given this business model, a significant decrease in the nation’s volunteers could considerably increase the risk that these agencies will be unable to sustain operations to meet service demands. Volunteer trends indicate that this risk may be likely in the future.

According to the US Bureau of Statistics, volunteerism is on the decline. For more than a decade the rate of US volunteerism fluctuated between 26% and 28% of the nation’s population (US population is approximately 300,000,000), and in 2013, that rate dropped 1.1% below the range. In addition to this overall decrease in volunteers, there has been a decrease in a prominent subset of the volunteer population: volunteers that hold at least a bachelor’s degree. In 2009, 42.8% of persons holding at least a bachelor’s degree were involved in volunteer activities and by 2013 that rate dropped to 39.8%. Unfortunately, this subset of the volunteer population continues to see the largest volunteer decrease. Even further, volunteers that at least hold a bachelor’s degree have also shown a decrease in the amount of financial support offered to non-profits. Many small, rural transit agencies are non-profits.
With trends indicating volunteerism is diminishing, small, rural transit agencies must be able to identify and quantify factors that significantly impact changes in volunteer participation. National studies have attributed the decline in volunteerism to factors such as financial stress, regional differences, government funding, and single-parent households. However, further research must be conducted on these factors with respect to small, rural transit agencies. Volunteers are important partners for many transit providers, and this trend could threaten the capacity and even the existence of several of these organizations.
The objectives of this project are to (1) research the decline in volunteers and (2) provide an assessment of the impact of this trend on the sustainability of transit operations that depend on volunteers. The research will assist in developing contingency plans at transit properties currently utilizing volunteers in their transit operations. For example: please note all employment costs assume $10/hour with no benefits.


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