Fixed Route Requirements

According to 49 CFR Part 37, a fixed route system is defined as “a system of transporting individuals (other than by aircraft), including the provision of designated public transportation service by public entities and the provision of transportation service by private entities, including, but not limited to, specified public transportation service, on which a vehicle is operated along a prescribed route according to a fixed schedule.” 


This definition uses the terms “designated public transportation” and “specified public transportation,” which draw distinctions between types of entities that provide service and between different modes of service, and they are explained below.  

Designated public transportation is provided to the general public on a regular and continuing basis by a public entity (excluding public school transportation) by bus or rail, or another mode (but not by aircraft, or intercity or commuter rail).  *Intercity and commuter rail services are excluded from this definition because the ADA addresses those types of services separately.  Public school transportation is excluded because accessibility requirements for that type of service are covered in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Specified public transportation is the same type of service provided to the public by a private entity, but intercity or commuter rail is also included.  **Air service is excluded from the definitions of designated and specified public transportation service because accessibility requirements are covered under the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986.  

In other words, if your public or private system transports the general public by bus or rail (excluding commuter or intercity rail if your organization is a public entity) on a regular basis on vehicles that travel a designated route on a fixed schedule, you operate fixed route service.  This definition includes charter service, but excludes public school transportation.  

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.  


General requirements

Before addressing the requirements specific to fixed route 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.

Non-discrimination requirements

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.  

While many requirements apply to all agencies providing public transportation service, there are some requirements that are specific to the service you provide.  


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.



Fixed route-specific requirements

This section of requirements applies only to those agencies providing fixed route service.  

Route identification 

If your system has stops that serve more than one bus line the ADA requires that you provide riders with a disability with the means of identifying which bus has arrived or to identify themselves as a person seeking a ride on a particular route. These external route identification announcements can be automated or spoken by the driver.  The DREDF Topic Guide on Stop Announcements and Route Identification recommends announcing both the bus line and the destination to ensure that the rider can board the correct bus going in the desired direction.

DREDF Topic Guide on Route Identification


Stop announcements 

Just as external announcements can be used to identify the bus line and destination, it is required that internal announcements are made to inform riders of upcoming stops. Announcements should be made in advance of the stop, and they should follow a standard format.  For example, the street the bus is traveling on should always be stated before the street it intersects. At a minimum, the following announcements must be made (list taken from the Topic Guide on Stop Announcements and Route Identification):

  • Transfer points with other fixed routes.
  • Major intersections and destination points.
  • Orientation announcements should be made during longer intervals on a route that has no stops or destination points, which allows passengers with disabilities to be oriented to their location.
  • Any requested stop.

This obligation can be met by requiring bus operators to announce stops or by using an automated stop announcement system on board the vehicle. It is recommended that the disability community and bus drivers be consulted when deciding what stops to announce to ensure the effectiveness of the system.  

DREDF Topic Guide on Stop Announcements

ADA complementary paratransit 

If your system includes fixed route service, you are required to provide complementary paratransit service to your customers who are unable to use the fixed route system.  To find information about complementary paratransit service requirements, please see the ADA Complementary Paratransit section of this toolkit.

Section sources