For the purpose of ADA regulations, transit systems are considered to be either fixed route or demand responsive (Section 37.3). Accurately categorizing a system is important because it will determine the requirements that systems will be required to follow. While some systems are clearly one or the other, systems that provide route deviation service can be harder to categorize. According to DOT regulations, route deviation service is considered to be demand response service.
The information presented in this section is based on the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations: 49 CFR Part 37- Transportation Services for Individuals with Disabilities (ADA) and 49 CFR Part 38- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Specifications for Transportation Vehicles.
Before addressing the requirements specific to flexible service, this section will list the ADA requirements that apply to all service types. These are repeated on each service-type page of this toolkit to ensure you have a comprehensive list of requirements regardless of the service you provide.
While the nondiscrimination requirements in 49 CFR Section 37.5 state that you may not discriminate against people with disabilities, there are some ambiguities. A clear statement of organizational policy can help you clarify exactly how you will deliver public transit service in a non-discriminatory manner. These requirements apply to both fixed route systems and rural programs operating other types of public transit service. The U.S. DOT regulations specifically address these points:
- You cannot discriminate against a person with a disability in the provision of transportation service. (Section 37.5(a))
- You cannot, on the basis of disability, deny an individual with a disability the opportunity to use the general transportation system if that person is capable of using that service. (Section 37.5 (b))
- You cannot require that an ambulatory person with a disability use priority seating. (Section 37.5 (c))
- You cannot impose special charges on individuals with disabilities, including those who use a wheelchair. (Section 37.5(d)) **Note that this is not the same as charging an ADA-eligible paratransit fare that is equal to the base fixed route fare times two (see section on ADA Paratransit Service Criteria).
- You cannot require that an individual with a disability be accompanied by an attendant. (Section 37.5(e))
- You cannot refuse service to an individual with disabilities because your insurance coverage or rates are based on the absence of individuals with disabilities. (Section 37.5(g))
- You are NOT required to provide service to an individual with disabilities if that individual engages in violent, seriously disruptive or illegal conduct. However, you cannot deny service to an individual with disabilities because his/her disability results in appearance or involuntary behavior that may offend, annoy, or inconvenience employees or other persons. (Section 37.5 (h))
Provision of Service Requirements
Section 37 Subpart G of the U.S. DOT Americans with Disabilities Act regulations describes how carefully you must attend to maintaining the accessibility features of your transit operations. The ADA addresses safety issues only insofar as it describes equipment and maintenance. The following points are highlights of the contents of Section 37, Subpart G:
- General maintenance of accessibility features: You must ensure that your vehicles and related transit facilities are maintained in operative condition so that they are usable by individuals with disabilities. You must promptly repair accessibility features if they are damaged or out of order. If an accessibility feature is out of order, you must also take reasonable steps to accommodate individuals with disabilities who would otherwise use the feature. Examples of this are shoveling snow around bus stops and providing a ride in a paratransit or supervisor’s vehicle to a fixed route passenger who gets stranded by an inoperative lift.
- Keep vehicle lifts in operative condition: You must create and follow a system of regular and frequent maintenance checks of lifts to determine whether the equipment is operative. Your vehicle operators must report any failure of a lift to operate in service as quickly as possible. For example, if you have a spare vehicle, the vehicle with the inoperative lift must be taken out of service before the beginning of the vehicle’s next day of service and the lift must be repaired before the vehicle returns to service. If you do not have a spare vehicle available, such that taking the vehicle out of service would reduce the transportation service you are able to provide, you may keep the vehicle with the inoperative lift in service for no more than five days.
- Lift and securement use: You are not required to permit wheelchairs to ride in places other than designated securement locations, but you cannot deny transportation to a wheelchair or its user on the grounds that the device cannot be secured or restrained satisfactorily by the vehicle’s securement system. You may recommend, but cannot require, that a user of a wheelchair transfer to a vehicle seat. Your personnel must assist individuals with disabilities who need or request assistance with the use of securement systems, ramps and lifts. If this requires the vehicle operator to leave his/her seat they must do so. You must permit individuals with disabilities who do not use wheelchairs, including standees, to use a vehicle’s lift or ramp to enter the vehicle. The September 2011 rule update removed the “common wheelchair” definition. This will be discussed in detail in the section on “Special Considerations Regarding ‘Non-Standard’ Mobility Devices” that will come later.
- Training requirements: Whether you are a public or private entity, if you operate a fixed route or demand responsive system you must ensure that your personnel are trained to proficiency, as appropriate to their duties. They must be able to operate vehicles and equipment safely and properly assist individuals with disabilities using the service in a respectful and courteous way, with appropriate attention to the difference among individuals with disabilities.
Other Service Requirements
Section 37.167 outlines several service delivery requirements, some of which apply only to fixed route systems while others apply to all operators of public transit systems. The requirements apply to both public and private entities.
For all public transit service the following is required:
- Your vehicle operators and other personnel must make use of the accessibility-related equipment or features required by Part 38.
- Your service information must be available in accessible formats to individuals with disabilities. This means your printed materials must be available, upon request, in accessible formats such as large print format, Braille, or CD. Online information should avoid the use of Flash and should be available in plain text to accommodate screen readers.
- You cannot refuse to permit a passenger who uses a lift to disembark from a vehicle at any designated stop, unless the lift cannot be deployed, the lift will be damaged if it is deployed, or temporary conditions at the stop, not under the control of the transit operator, preclude the safe use of the stop by all passengers.
- You cannot prohibit an individual with a disability from traveling with a respirator or portable oxygen supply provided the devices are properly secured under 49 CFR subtitle B, chapter 1, subchapter C. U.S. DOT Office of Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials.
- You must ensure that individuals with disabilities have adequate time to complete boarding or disembarking from the vehicle.
- You must ask that individuals sitting in the priority seating area, or fold-down seats in the wheelchair securement area, relocate if an individual needs to use that priority seating because of a disability or needs to secure a wheelchair.
Reasonable modification of policies and practices
The Reasonable Modification Final Rule, effective July 13, 2015, clarifies that public transportation providers are required to make reasonable modifications to their polices, practices, and procedures to avoid discrimination and ensure programs and services are accessible to individuals with disabilities. It applies to public entities providing fixed route, demand-response (dial-a-ride), and complementary paratransit services. It establishes that an individual’s disability cannot preclude a public transportation entity from providing full access to its service, except when it would fundamentally alter the service.
The Final Rule also provides 27 examples of what a reasonable modification is and is not, and clarifies the definition of origin-to-destination service. The issue of origin-to-destination policy has long had varied interpretations and was unevenly applied throughout the nation. The new rule requires paratransit providers that primarily operate curb-to-curb service to make reasonable modifications for those passengers who need assistance beyond the curb so that they can use the service.
Flexible service-specific requirements
As stated earlier, flexible service is considered to be demand responsive service under DOT regulations, and because of that it must follow the requirements for equivalent level of service for its riders with disabilities (see section below).
However, FTA has informally made a distinction between service that allows anyone to request route deviations and service that only allows riders with disabilities to request the deviations. If the system provides route deviations only to customers with disabilities, this service is then regarded as complementary paratransit service, and is held to the paratransit service criteria that are listed on the ADA complementary paratransit page of this toolkit. If the system with flexible service provides complementary paratransit service for its riders with disabilities, it must implement an eligibility determination (and appeal) process for those who would like to use the service. If the system’s service allows all riders to request route deviations, the system is considered demand responsive and must follow the equivalent service requirements when serving riders with disabilities.
To read about the distinction between deviated-route service that is considered to be demand responsive and deviated-route service that is considered to be ADA paratransit, please see the FTA’s FY 2012 Triennial Review Program Workshop Workbook.
Equivalent service standards
Service provided to individuals with disabilities should be equivalent to the service provided to other individuals in the following ways (Section 37.105):
- Response time.
- Geographic service area.
- Hours and days of service.
- Restrictions or priorities based on trip purpose.
- Availability of information and reservation capability.
- Any constraints on capacity or service availability.