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ADA Transportation Series

Other Transportation Systems -- Draft

Please be advised that this document has not been reviewed for legal sufficiency by the U.S. Department of Transportation or the U.S. Department of Justice.

Questions and Answers

This document is part of a series devoted to increasing the understanding and awareness of the transportation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The U.S. Department of Transportation is responsible for the enforcement of ADA transportation requirements. This information is intended solely as informal guidance. It is neither a determination of legal rights and/or responsibilities under the ADA, nor is it binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA.

The requirements of 49 CFR Part 37 address the acquisition of accessible vehicles by public and private entities, requirements for complementary paratransit service by public entities operating a fixed route system and provision of nondiscriminatory accessible transportation service. Accessibility specifications for transportation vehicles are addressed in 49 CFR Part 38. Answers to the questions in this series are quoted directly from the transportation rules, with subsection locations shown in parenthesis. The ADA Transportation Regulations cover a broad range of transportation types. This document addresses some of the most common questions about entities not primarily engaged in transportation and other special provider types.


1. How is disability defined for purposes of transportation?

A person with a disability is an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the individual such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. The definition also includes individuals with a record of such an impairment or an individual who is regarded as having such an impairment. (§37.3)

2. When is a transportation system "Demand Responsive"?

An advance request for service is a key characteristic distinguishing a demand responsive service. Systems, like a dial-a-ride van system or a taxi or limousine service, are clearly demand responsive. With demand responsive service, an active step must be taken before the individual can access the service (e.g., the individual must make a telephone call).

Some services (e.g., certain commuter bus or commuter rail operations) may use flag stops, in which a vehicle along the route does not stop unless a passenger flags the vehicle down. A traveler staying at a hotel usually makes a room reservation before hopping on the hotel shuttle. This kind of interaction does not make an otherwise fixed route service demand responsive. On the other hand, we would regard a system that permits user-initiated deviations from routes or schedules as demand responsive. (§37.3)

3. What is meant when a transportation provider is said to be "Not Primarily Engaged"?

Many private businesses have transportation as their primary business. For example, taxi companies and inter-city bus companies are primarily engaged in the business of transporting people. Many other businesses transport people, but do so only as a secondary part of the business. These businesses include hotels that operate a shuttle to the airport or schools that provide bus transportation. Such businesses are not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people. Such businesses must adhere to different rules than those that are primarily engaged in the business.

The line between primarily engaged and not primarily engaged entities is drawn with respect to the specific bus, van, or other service which the entity is providing. For example, there is an obvious sense in which an airline or car rental company is primarily engaged in the business of transporting people. If the airline or car rental agency runs a shuttle bus from the airport terminal to a downtown location or a rental car lot, however, that shuttle service is covered by the "not primarily engaged" requirements of the regulations. This is because the airline or car rental agency is not primarily engaged in the business of providing transportation by bus or van. The relationship of the bus or van service to an airline's main business is analogous to that of a shuttle to a hotel. For this purpose, it is of only incidental interest that the main business of the airline is flying people around the country instead of putting them up for the night. (§37.105)

4. What is a "fixed route" system?

A fixed route system is a system for transporting individuals on which a vehicle is operated along a prescribed route according to a fixed schedule. A typical city bus system fits clearly into this category. With fixed route service, no action by the individual is needed to initiate service. If an individual is at a bus stop at the time the bus is scheduled to appear, then that individual will be able to access the transportation system. If a service is provided along a given route, and a vehicle will arrive at certain times regardless of whether a passenger actively requests the vehicle, the service in most cases should be regarded as fixed route rather than demand responsive. (§37.3)


5. Is a person with a disability required to use special transportation services if they are provided?

No, an entity must allow an individual with a disability an opportunity to use the entity's transportation service for the general public, if the individual is capable of using that service. (§37.5(b))

6. Is a person with a disability required to use designated priority seating?

An entity may not require an individual with a disability to use designated priority seats, if the individual does not choose to use these seats. A person with a disability may choose to take advantage of this accommodation or not. (§37.5(c))

7. May an entity impose special charges on people with disabilities?

An entity may not impose special charges on individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, for providing services required by the regulations or otherwise necessary to accommodate them. For example, if a shuttle service charges $20.00 for a ride from a given location to the airport for most people, it could not charge $40.00 because the passenger had a disability or needed to use the shuttle service's lift-equipped van.

Higher mileage charges for using an accessible vehicle would likewise be inconsistent with the rule. Charging extra to carry a service animal accompanying an individual with a disability would also be inconsistent with the rule. If a taxi company charges $1.00 to stow luggage in the trunk, it cannot charge $2.00 to stow a folding wheelchair there.

This provision does not mean, however, that a transportation provider cannot charge nondiscriminatory fees to passengers with disabilities. The taxi company in the above example can charge a passenger $1.00 to stow a wheelchair in the trunk; it is not required to waive the charge.

This does not prohibit the fares for paratransit service which transit providers are allowed to charge. (§37.5(d))

8. Is a person with a disability required to travel with an attendant?

An entity may not require that an individual with disabilities be accompanied by an attendant. However, the entity is not required to provide attendant services (e.g., assistance in toileting, feeding, dressing, etc.) (§37.5(e))

9. Are there any circumstances under which an entity may deny service to a person with a disability?

An entity may refuse to provide service to an individual with a disability because that individual engages in violent, seriously disruptive, or illegal conduct. If the entity legitimately refuses service to someone, it may condition service to him or her on actions that would mitigate the problem. For example, the entity could require an attendant as a condition of providing service it otherwise had the right to refuse.

However, an entity may not refuse to provide service to an individual with a disability solely because the individual's disability results in appearance or involuntary behavior that may offend, annoy, or inconvenience employees of the entity or other persons, but which does not pose a direct threat. For example, some persons with Tourette's syndrome may make involuntary profane exclamations. These may be very annoying or offensive to others, but would not be a ground for denial of service. Nor may the entity deny service based on fear or misinformation about a disability. For example, a transit provider could not deny service to a person with HIV disease because its personnel or other passengers are afraid of being near people with that condition. (§37.5(h))

Service Requirements

10. What are the requirements for maintenance of accessibility equipment?

Public and private entities providing transportation services must maintain in operative condition those features of facilities and vehicles that are required to make the vehicles and facilities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. These features include, but are not limited to, lifts and other means of access to vehicles, securement devices, elevators, signage and systems to facilitate communications with persons with impaired vision or hearing.

It is not sufficient to provide features such as lift-equipped vehicles, elevators, communications systems to provide information to people with vision or hearing impairments, etc. if these features are not maintained in a manner that enables individuals with disabilities to use them. Inoperative lifts or elevators, locked accessible doors, accessible paths of travel that are blocked by equipment or boxes of materials are not accessible to or usable by individuals with disabilities.

Allowing obstructions or out of order accessibility equipment to persist beyond a reasonable period of time violates the transportation regulations of the ADA. Mechanical failures due to improper or inadequate maintenance are also a violation. Failure of the entity to ensure that accessible routes are free of obstruction and properly maintained, or failure to arrange prompt repair of inoperative elevators, lifts, or other accessibility-related equipment, would also violate the regulations.

The rule also requires that accommodations be made to individuals with disabilities who would otherwise use an inoperative accessibility feature. For example, when a rail system discovers that an elevator is out of order, blocking access to one of its stations, it could accommodate users of the station by announcing the problem at other stations to alert passengers and offer accessible shuttle bus service around the temporarily inaccessible station. If a public address system were out of order, the entity could designate personnel to provide information to customers with visual impairments. (§37.161)

11. Are service animals allowed on transportation vehicles and in transportation facilities?

Service animals are always permitted to accompany their users in any private or public transportation vehicle or facility. One of the most common misunderstandings about service animals is that they are limited to being guide dogs for persons with visual impairments. Dogs are trained to assist people with a wide variety of disabilities, including individuals with hearing and mobility impairments. In addition, other animals (e.g., monkeys) are sometimes used as service animals as well. In any of these situations, the entity must permit the service animal to accompany its user. (§37.167(d))

12. May a transportation provider require an individual with a disability to use securement devices provided in a vehicle?

A transportation provider may require that wheelchair users use securement systems for their mobility devices. The entity, in other words, can require wheelchair users to "buckle up" their mobility devices.

Further, the entity is required to use the securement system to secure wheelchairs. This requirement is a mandate to use best efforts to restrain or confine the wheelchair to the securement area. The transportation provider does the best it can, given its securement technology and the nature of the wheelchair. Entities with relatively less adequate securement systems on their vehicles are encouraged to retrofit the vehicles with better securement systems, that can successfully restrain a wide variety of wheelchairs. (§37.165(c)(3))

13. If all securement locations are filled, may the transportation provider refuse to pick up a wheelchair user?

Entities may require wheelchair users to ride in designated securement locations. That is, the entity is not required to carry wheelchair users whose wheelchairs would have to park in an aisle or other location where they could obstruct other persons' passage or where they could not be secured or restrained. An entity's vehicle is, therefore, not required to pick up a wheelchair user when the securement locations are full, just as the vehicle may pass by other passengers waiting at the stop if the bus is full. (§37.165(b))

14. May a transportation provider require that a wheelchair user transfer to a vehicle seat?

Entities have often recommended or required that a wheelchair user transfer out of his or her own device into a vehicle seat. It is no longer permissible to require such a transfer. The entity may provide information on risks and make a recommendation with respect to transfer, but the final decision on whether to transfer is up to the passenger. (§37.165(e))

15. Is a transportation operator required to announce stops?

On fixed route systems, the transportation provider must announce stops. These stops include transfer points with other fixed routes. This means that any time a vehicle is to stop where a passenger can get off and transfer to another bus or rail line (or to another form of transportation, such as commuter rail or ferry), the stop would be announced. The announcement can be made personally by the vehicle operator or can be made by a recording system.

Announcements also must be made at major intersections or destination points. In addition, the entity must make announcements at sufficient intervals along a route to orient a visually impaired passenger to his or her location. The other required announcements may serve this function in many instances, but if there is a long distance between other announcements, fill-in orientation announcements would be called for. The entity must announce any stop requested by a passenger with a disability, even if it does not meet any of the other criteria for announcement.

If the vehicle is small enough so that the operator can make himself or herself heard without a P.A. system, it is not necessary to use the system. (§37.167(b)(2))

16. Are all transportation providers required to provide paratransit?

Only public entities operating fixed route systems must provide paratransit or other special service to individuals with disabilities. The paratransit system must be comparable to the level of service provided to individuals without disabilities who use the fixed route system. This requirement applies to light and rapid rail systems as well as to bus systems, even when rail and bus systems share all or part of the same service area.

Requirements for complementary paratransit do not apply to commuter bus, commuter rail, or intercity rail systems.

Paratransit may be provided by a variety of modes. Publicly operated dial-a-ride vans, service contracted out to a private paratransit provider, user-side subsidy programs, or any combination of these and other approaches is acceptable. (§37.121(c))

Additional material on paratransit can be found in the Paratransit Eligibility and Paratransit Service documents of the Transportation QandA series.

17. What is equivalent service?

A fixed route or demand responsive system is providing equivalent service if the service available to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, is provided in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individual and is equivalent to the service provided other individuals with respect to the following service characteristics:

(a) (1) Schedules/headways (if the system is fixed route)

(2) Response time (if the system is demand responsive)

(b) Fares

(c) Geographic area of service

(d) Hours and days of service

(e) Availability of information

(f) Reservations capability (if the system is demand responsive)

(g) Any constraints on capacity or service availability

(h) Restrictions priorities based on trip purpose (if the system is demand responsive).

In applying the provisions to this section, it is important to note that they are only points of comparison. For example, if a demand responsive system gets a van to a non-disabled person in 2 hours, 8 hours, or a week and a half after a call for service, the system must get an accessible van to a person with a disability in 2 hours, 8 hours, or a week and a half.

A private entity not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people which operates a demand responsive system must ensure that its system, when viewed in its entirety, provides equivalent service to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, as it does to individuals without disabilities. Entities in this category are always required to provide equivalent service, regardless of what they are doing with respect to the acquisition of vehicles. The effect of this provision may be to require some entities to arrange, either through acquiring their own accessible vehicles or coordinating with other providers, to have accessible vehicles available to meet the equivalency standards or otherwise to comply with the standards. (§37.171)

18. What are the requirements for university transportation systems?

Private university-operated transportation systems are subject to the regulations for private entities not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people.

With one important exception, public university-operated transportation systems are subject to the requirements for public entities. For public university fixed route systems, the requirements for commuter bus service would govern. This has the effect of requiring the acquisition of accessible vehicles and compliance with most other provisions of the regulations, but does not require the provision of complementary paratransit or submitting a paratransit plan.

The nature of the systems involved -- demand responsive or fixed route -- determines the precise requirements involved. (§37.25)

19. Are elementary and secondary schools required to provide accessible transportation?

The transportation regulations of the ADA do not apply to public school transportation. However, the general rules of title II program accessibility may apply. In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) presents specific requirements for public school transportation of children with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs has excellent materials available on IDEA.

The transportation requirements of ADA do not apply to the transportation of school children to and from a private elementary or secondary school, and its school-related activities, if the school is providing transportation service to students with disabilities equivalent to that provided to students without disabilities. If the school does not meet the requirement of this paragraph for exemption from the requirements of this part, it is subject to the requirements for private entities not primarily engaged in transporting people.

Given the constitutional law on church-state separation, it is likely that church-affiliated private schools do not receive Federal financial assistance. To the extent that these schools' transportation systems are operated by religious entities or entities controlled by religious organizations, they are not subject to the ADA at all. (§37.27)

20. What must airport shuttle services do to meet accessibility requirements?

Private jitney or shuttle services that provide transportation between an airport and destinations in the area it serves in a route-deviation or other variable mode are subject to the requirements of this Part for private entities primarily engaged in the business of transporting people which provide demand responsive service. They may meet equivalency requirements by such means as sharing or pooling accessible vehicles among operators, in a way that ensures the provision of equivalent service. (§37.33)

21. Are the requirements the same for other shuttle services such as hotel shuttles?

Shuttle systems and other transportation services operated by privately-owned hotels, car rental agencies, historical or theme parks, and other public accommodations are subject to the requirements for private entities not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people. The requirements for demand responsive or fixed route service may apply, depending upon the characteristics of each individual system of transportation. (§37.33)

22. Are recreational vehicles required to be accessible?

Conveyances used by members of the public primarily for recreational purposes rather than for transportation (e.g., amusement park rides, ski lifts, or historic rail cars or trolleys operated in museum settings) are not subject to the transportation requirements of the ADA. Such conveyances are subject to Department of Justice regulations implementing Title II or Title III of the ADA, as applicable.

The criterion for determining what requirements apply is whether the conveyances are primarily an aspect of the recreational experience itself or a means of getting from Point A to Point B. At a theme park, for instance, a large roller coaster (though a "train" of cars on a track) is a public accommodation not subject to the transportation requirements of the ADA; the tram that transports the paying customers around the park, with a stop at the roller coaster, is a transportation system subject to the provisions for entities not primarily engaged in transportation. (§37.37)

23. If employers provide transportation service must that service be accessible?

Transportation services provided by an employer solely for its own employees are not subject to the transportation requirements of the ADA. Such services are subject to the regulations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title I of the ADA and, with respect to public entities, the regulations of the Department of Justice under Title II of the ADA.

This exclusion applies to transportation services provided by an employer (whether access to motor pool vehicles, parking shuttles, employer-sponsored van pools) that is made available solely to its own employees. If an employer provides service to its own employees and other persons, such as workers of other employers or customers, it would be subject to the transportation requirements for private entities not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people or the public entity rules, as applicable. (§37.37)

24. Are private clubs and religious entities required to make their transportation services accessible?

Transportation systems operated by private clubs or religious organizations or entities controlled by religious organizations are not subject to the transportation requirements of the ADA. (§37.37)

Vehicle Acquisition

25. Must private entities not primarily engaged in transportation acquire accessible vehicles?

The rules for acquiring vehicles by private entities not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people are summarized in the following table:

Private Entities Not Primarily Engaged (§37.105)

System Type Vehicle Capacity Requirement
Fixed Route Over 16 Acquire accessible vehicle
Fixed Route 16 or less Acquire accessible or ensure equivalency
Demand Responsive Over 16 Acquire accessible or ensure equivalency
Demand Responsive 16 or less Ensure equivalency

Other Sources of Information

Regional ADA Technical Assistance Centers: 1-800-949-4232 (V, TTY)

Federal Transit Administration ADA Toll-Free Technical Assistance Line: 1-888-446-4511 (Voice) or 1-800-877-8339 (TTY);