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ADA Transportation Series

Transportation Rules of the ADA -- 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.

Overview Summary

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 transportation rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act protect people with disabilities from discrimination in public transportation by organizations covered under titles II and III of the Act. This includes both publicly- and privately-owned transportation operations. It includes the transportation operations of organizations whose primary function is providing transportation services, as well as those that provide transportation service as an incidental part of their other business functions. This document addresses some of the most common general questions about the transportation rules.


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 such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working of the individual. The definition also includes individuals with a record of such an impairment or an individual who regarded as having such an impairment. (§37.3)

2. What is the difference between "fixed route" and "demand responsive" transportation systems?

A fixed route transportation system is one that operates along a prescribed route according to a fixed schedule. A demand responsive system is any other transportation system. Fixed route systems typically include city bus systems, commuter and over-the road bus systems, subways, light rail systems, and intercity rail transportation. Demand responsive transportation typically includes taxis, limousine services, van services, and shuttle bus systems. (§37.3)

3. What are "designated" and "specified" public transportation?

Designated public transportation is transportation service provided by a public entity such as a municipality or special transportation district. Specified public transportation is transportation service such as a taxi or bus service provided by a private entity to the general public. Both provide service to the general public only the nature of owner/operation differs. (§37.3)

4. What is meant by transportation providers who are "primarily engaged" and "not primarily engaged"?

Some private entities or specified public transportation providers such as taxi and over-the road bus companies provide transportation as the central feature of their operation. These companies are said to be "primarily engaged" in the business of transportation. For others such as hotels providing a shuttle service the transportation service is peripheral to their main business. These entities are said to be "not primarily engaged" in the business of transportation. (§37.105)

5. What is paratransit?

Paratransit means comparable transportation service required by the ADA for people with disabilities who are unable to use fixed route transportation systems. (§37.3)

6. How do the transportation rules define "wheelchair"?

The transportation rules have a very specific definition of a wheelchair. It may be three or four wheeled, manual or powered. However, it may not exceed 30 inches by 48 inches nor weigh more than 600 pounds when occupied. (§37.3)

Transportation Systems Covered by the ADA

The following types of transportation and their respective nondiscrimination requirements illustrate the nature of the transportation rules. It is impossible to cover every mode of transportation in this overview. Further, it must be noted that every system must be analyzed as one of a kind.

City Bus Systems

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)


Taxis and limousines are subject to the rules for privately operated, demand responsive entities primarily engaged in the business of transporting people. (§37.29)

Airport and Hotel Shuttles

Fixed route transportation systems operated by public airports are regarded as fixed route commuter bus systems. Shuttles among terminals and parking lots, connector systems among the airport and a limited number of other local destinations must acquire accessible vehicles but are not subject to complementary paratransit requirements. (§37.33)

Private entities (i.e., those operating places of public accommodation) are covered by the rules governing private entities not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people. Fixed route or demand responsive rules apply, depending on the characteristics of the system involved. (§37.35)

Over-the-Road Buses

Over-the-Road buses are characterized by an elevated passenger deck located over a baggage compartment. This service is subject to all the other entity requirements of the rule. (§37.169)

Rapid Rail and Subway Systems

A rapid rail system is a subway-type transit vehicle railway operated on exclusive private rights of way with high level platform stations. Rapid rail may also operate on elevated or at grade level track separated from other traffic. Rapid rail is distinguished from inter-city or commuter rail systems. (§37.3)

Transportation Systems Not Covered by the Transportation Rules (Part 37) of the ADA

The following transportation systems are not covered by the transportation provisions (Part 37) of the ADA:

Elementary and Secondary Education Systems

The requirements of Part 37 do not apply to elementary and secondary education systems operated by public entities or private entities receiving federal funding. (§37.27) Accessibility of school transportation is addressed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Non-transportation aspects of school accessibility are covered by titles II and III of the ADA.

Recreational Conveyances

Conveyances used for recreational purposes such as amusement park rides or ski lifts are not covered by Part 37 of the ADA. Rather, they are subject to the nondiscrimination rules under titles II and III of the ADA as applicable. Other conveyances may fit into this category. (§37.37)


Aircraft used for point-to-point transportation are not subject to the transportation rules of the ADA. They are covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, 14 CFR Part 382. (§37.3) Aircraft used in a "loop" situation, such as a tour of the Grand Canyon, might be considered recreational conveyances and thus may be covered under title III, similar to other recreational conveyances.

Employee Transportation

Employee transportation systems such as shuttle buses are not covered by the transportation rules of the ADA. Such services are subject to the regulations put forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under title I of the ADA. For public entities, such services are subject to regulations under title II of the ADA. (§37.37)

Private or Religious Organizations

Transportation systems operated by private clubs or establishments exempted from coverage under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000-a(e)) or religious organizations or entities controlled by religious organizations are not subject to the requirements of Part 37. (§37.37)

What is Required

Vehicle Acquisition & Accessibility Requirements

The table below shows non rail vehicle acquisition requirements for private, primarily engaged, private not primarily engaged, and public transportation providers. (§37.9, §37.71-§37.95, §37.101-§37.109 & §37.171)

Private Entities Not Primarily Engaged
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
Private Entities Primarily Engaged
Fixed Route All new vehicles except autos, vans with less than 8 capacity, or over the road buses Acquire accessible vehicle
Demand Responsive All new vehicles except autos, vans with less than 8 capacity, or over the road buses Acquire accessible or ensure equivalency
Fixed Route or Demand Responsive New vans with capacity less than 8 Acquire accessible or ensure equivalency
Public Entities
Fixed Route All new nonrail vehicles Acquire accessible vehicle or receive UMTA waiver
Fixed Route All used nonrail vehicles Acquire accessible vehicle or demonstrate good faith effort
Demand Responsive All new nonrail vehicles Acquire accessible or ensure equivalency

The requirements for accessibility features differ with the type of vehicle. In general, the vehicle must provide for entry, maneuverability, securement, and exit of mobility aids including wheelchairs. Public information systems including stop announcement and other passenger information inside the vehicle, as well as destination signs outside the vehicle must support the needs of people with vision and hearing impairments as appropriate. The specific requirements for each vehicle type were developed by the Access Board and are contained in 49 CFR Part 38.

Demonstrating equivalency requires the operating entity to show that each of the following items is equivalent for people with and without disabilities: response times, fares, area of coverage, hours and days of operation, restrictions or priorities, availability of information, reservations, and constraints on capacity.

General Service Requirements

No entity shall discriminate against an individual with a disability in connection with the provision of transportation service. (§37.5)

Public and private entities providing transportation services shall 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 lifts and other means of access to vehicles, securement devices, elevators, signage and systems to facilitate communications with persons with impaired vision or hearing. (§37.161)

The entity is not required to permit wheelchairs to ride in places other than designated securement locations in the vehicle. The entity shall provide and use a securement system, and the entity may require that an individual permit his or her wheelchair to be secured. (§37.165)

The entity shall permit service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in vehicles and facilities. (§37.167)

Entities shall ensure that personnel are trained to proficiency, as appropriate to their duties, so that they operate vehicles and equipment safely and properly assist and treat individuals with disabilities who use the service in a respectful and courteous way, with appropriate attention to the differences among individuals with disabilities. (§37.173)


All public entity-operated, fixed route systems except commuter bus, commuter rail, and intercity rail systems must provide paratransit or other special service to individuals with disabilities that is comparable to the level of service provided to individuals without disabilities who use the fixed route system. (§37.121)

Paratransit users must meet one eligibility criteria: 1) They must be unable to use accessible vehicle; 2) They are able to use an accessible vehicle, but accessible vehicles are not available; 3) They have a specific condition restricting travel to or from a boarding or disembarking point. (§37.123(e))

There are specific requirements addressing the paratransit service area, response time, fares, restrictions, hours and days of service, and capacity constraints. (§37.131)

Public entities are permitted to use subscription services as part of a complementary paratransit system. (§37.133)

All public entity-operated, fixed route systems except commuter bus, commuter rail, and intercity rail systems must develop a paratransit plan by January 26, 1992. Each plan shall provide for full compliance by no later than January 26, 1997, unless the entity has received a waiver based on undue financial burden. (§37.135)

Transportation Facilities

Accessibility specifications for transportation facilities are provided in Section 10 of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines. These specifications cover both new facilities and alterations to existing facilities. (§37.7)

The guidelines cover bus stops and terminals including pads and shelters and posted route signs; rail stations including platforms, fare vending machines, signage, and elevators and escalators; and airports including paths of circulation, ticketing and check-in, and terminal information systems. Other facility elements, such as restrooms, are covered, independent of their transportation connection, by the general element sections of the ADAAG. (§37.41-§37.61)

Other Sources of Information

Regional ADA Technical Assistance Centers: Toll-Free 1-800-949-4232

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