Abstract ‘Unconventional modes’ of public transport have been perceived in some quarters as a valid new policy option for tackling rural accessibility problems in Britain. The nature of unconventional modes (UCMs) and community transport (CT) is explained. Within a changing policy context, the UCM/CT sector has expanded steadily over the last 20 years. It is expedient to review the status of these modes in 1985, immediately prior to the deregulation of the British bus industry. The distribution of the most common modal types is examined more closely. Despite recent expansion and official encouragement, the ability of UCMs to alleviate rural access problems is debateable, and their future role is uncertain.