Living in the countryside confers advantages and disadvantages that are experienced in very unequal proportions by different groups of people. Those for whom the benefits outweigh the difficulties include people who have control over rural resources and people whose incomes are derived elsewhere and who may have moved into the countryside voluntarily to enjoy its environment and amenities. Those for whom the difficulties outweigh the benefits include people who are dependent on rural resources, such as working the land, but have no control over them. The latter might be identified with ‘traditional’ communities that have always lived in rural localities. Problems of rural areas range from the macro-scale to the extremely localised. The first type result from rural areas’ subordination to external forces, their economic and political weakness, and their peripherality (Marsden et al. 1993; Hoggart et al. 1995; Ilbery 1998). It is the local problems, however, that bear upon the struggle for day-to-day living, especially for the more vulnerable social groups. Because of the nature of rural areas, the activities that people habitually undertake include many that involve making journeys to other places for normal everyday purposes. While the ability to make such trips may be taken for granted in the city, in rural environments the difficulties of doing the same are frequently so great as to cause hardship and isolation for many people.
While accessibility as a spatial concept is universal, it is made particularly acute as a social issue in rural areas due to the inherent characteristics of ‘rurality’ itself. These are a relatively low population density, a dispersed settlement pattern with low population totals at any point, a scattered pattern of small service outlets, a concentration of middle- and high-order facilities in widely separated urban nodes, and hence long and costly travel distances. In pursuit of a ‘normal’ lifestyle, people need to consume a range of goods and services, to get to work, to make shopping trips, to use medical, financial and information services, and to take part in social and recreational activities. Under rural conditions, only a small proportion of these needs will be achievable within walking distance of home (and even this makes certain assumptions about health and physical fitness), while a greater proportion will require some form of transport. An aggravating factor is the continuing trend of closures of economically marginal consumer service outlets—shops, post offices, etc. —in rural areas (Clark and Woollett 1990), which means that local residents need to make more journeys than before. Poor access to services in the transport sense, as well as in the broader economic sense, contributes to a syndrome of problems known as ‘rural deprivation’ (e.g. Pacione 1995).
The same situation could be tackled from the ‘transport’ viewpoint. The ideal mode for conditions of ‘dispersed demand’ is the privately owned motor car, which rural dwellers in affluent developed countries have adopted in great numbers. Obvious advantages are freedom of choice of route and timing, the ability to carry heavy loads, sheer convenience, and flexibility. In