Transport can play a key role in mitigating climate change, through reducing traffic, emissions and dependency on private vehicles. Transport is also crucial to connect remote areas to central or urban areas. Yet, sustainable and flexible transport is among the greatest challenges for rural areas and rural–urban regions. Innovative transport concepts and approaches are urgently needed to foster sustainable and integrated regional development. This article addresses challenges of sustainability, accessibility, and connectivity through examining complementary systems to existing public transport, including demand-responsive transport and multimodal mobility. We draw upon case studies from the Metropolitan Area of Styria, Ljubljana Urban Region and rural Wales (GUSTmobil, REGIOtim, EURBAN, Bicikelj, Bwcabus, Grass Routes). In-depth analysis through a mixed-methods case study design captures the complexity behind these chosen examples, which form a basis for analysing the effects of services on accessibility for different groups, connectivity to public transport and usability as a “first and last mile” feeder. We further explore the weaknesses of complementary transport systems, including legal, organisational and financial barriers, and offer potential solutions to structure and communicate complementary transport systems to improve access and use. Looking ahead, we use the case studies to anticipate innovative, sustainable “mobility as a service” (MaaS) solutions within and between urban and rural areas and consider how future public policy orientations and arrangements can enable positive change. A main concern of our article and the contribution to scientific literature is through exploring the benefit of well-established multi-level governance arrangements when introducing smaller-scale mobility solutions to improve rural–urban accessibility. It becomes clear that not a one-size-fits-all model but placed-based and tailored approaches lead to successful and sustainable concepts.
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