This technical assistance document is one of a series provided to help in understanding the background and underlying rationale of the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles (Vehicle Guidelines) and how the guidelines may apply in a particular case. The documents in this series are:
The information in this document is based on the preamble published with the Vehicle Guidelines, augmented with material developed in response to questions which have been posed to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) since publication of the guidelines. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued standards for vehicles based on the guidelines. The guidance in this document does not constitute a determination of compliance with the DOT standards or with your rights or responsibilities under the ADA and is not binding on DOT.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) [P.L. 101-336, 42 U.S.C. 12101, et seq], signed into law by President Bush on July 26, 1990, is landmark legislation to extend civil rights protection to people with disabilities. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government services, public transportation, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and telecommunications.
Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by public entities, including units of State and local government and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak). Title II addresses public transportation and contains provisions specifically addressing the following types of transit systems: fixed route bus, rapid rail, light rail, commuter rail, and intercity rail. Under title II, transit systems of these types which are owned or operated by public entities, and persons under contract with such entities, must be made readily accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs. With respect to public entities, title II requires that:
New Vehicles. New vehicles purchased or leased after August 25, 1990, must be accessible.
Used Vehicles. If used vehicles are purchased or leased after August 25, 1990, good faith efforts must be made to obtain accessible vehicles.
Remanufactured Vehicles. If vehicles are remanufactured after August 25, 1990, to extend their useful life for 5 years or more in the case of buses and rapid and light rail vehicles, or for 10 years in the case of commuter and intercity rail cars, then the vehicles must be made accessible to the maximum extent feasible.
"One-Car-Per-Train" Rule. At least one vehicle or car in each train of two or more cars must be accessible as soon as practicable but in no event later than July 26, 1995, in the case of rapid, light, commuter, and intercity rail systems.
Demand Responsive Systems. New vehicles purchased or leased after August 25, 1990, for use in a demand responsive system operated by a public entity, or by a person under contract with such an entity, must be accessible unless the system, when viewed in its entirety, provides to individuals with disabilities a level of service equivalent to that provided to other members of the general public.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations and services provided by private entities. Under title III, public transportation services (other than by aircraft) provided by private entities must also be made readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs. Under title III, the following requirements apply to private entities that are primarily engaged in the business of transporting people and whose operations affect commerce:
New Vehicles. New vehicles purchased or leased after August 25, 1990, must be accessible unless the vehicle is to be used solely in a demand responsive system that, when viewed in its entirety, provides to individuals with disabilities a level of service equivalent to that provided to other members of the general public. This requirement does not apply to automobiles, vans with a seating capacity of less than 8 passengers, or over-the-road buses.
Vans. New vans with a seating capacity of less than 8 passengers purchased or leased after February 25, 1992, must be accessible, unless the system for which the van is being purchased or leased, when viewed in its entirety, provides to individuals with disabilities a level of service equivalent to that provided to other members of the general public.
Rail Cars. New rail passenger cars purchased or leased after February 25, 1992, must be accessible. Rail passenger cars remanufactured after February 25, 1992, to extend their useful life for 10 years or more must be made accessible to the maximum extent feasible.
For private entities not primarily engaged in the business of transporting people but whose operations affect commerce, such as hotels, shopping centers, and recreational facilities which operate shuttles service for customers or patrons, title III requires that:
New Vehicles for Fixed Route Systems. New vehicles with a seating capacity of more than 16 passengers purchased or leased after August 25, 1990, for use in fixed route systems must be accessible. This requirement does not apply to over-the-road buses. New vehicles with a seating capacity of 16 passengers or less purchased or leased after August 25, 1990, for use in a fixed route system must also be accessible unless the system, when viewed in its entirety, provides to individuals with disabilities a level of service equivalent to that provided to other members of the general public.
New Vehicles for Demand Responsive Systems. New vehicles with a seating capacity of more than 16 passengers, purchased or leased after August 25, 1990, for use in a demand responsive system must be accessible unless the system, when viewed in its entirety, provides to individuals with disabilities a level of service equivalent to that provided to other members of the general public.
Operation of Demand Responsive Systems. Demand responsive systems must be operated in such a manner that after July 26, 1990, the system, when viewed in its entirety, provides to individuals with disabilities a level of service equivalent to that provided to other members of the general public.
Over-the-Road Buses. Title III specifically addresses over-the-road buses operated by private entities. The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) is responsible, under title III of the ADA, for studying the access needs of individuals with disabilities to over-the-road buses and the most cost-effective methods for providing such access. In view of this mandated study, over-the-road buses covered by title III are not required to be accessible to wheelchair or mobility aid users until July 26, 1997, for small providers and July 26, 1996, for other providers. Over-the-road buses purchased or leased after January 26, 1992, but before July 26, 1996 or 1997 may be required to include accessibility features which do not involve structural changes or use of boarding devices.
The Department of Transportation is responsible for issuing regulations to implement the transportation provisions of the ADA, including accessibility standards for transportation vehicles. The ADA required the Access Board to develop guidelines to provide guidance to DOT on establishing the accessibility standards for transportation vehicles. DOT published interim standards on October 4, 1990 (55 FR 40762). Those standards apply to vehicles purchased after August 26, 1990, but before October 7, 1991.
The Access Board published its minimum guidelines, known as the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles on September 6, 1991, in the Federal Register (56 FR 45530). The provisions for lifts, ramps, and securement devices were dawn primarily from a series of guidelines developed as part of a project sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), formerly the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA), in 1986: Guideline Specifications for Passive Wheelchair Lifts, Guideline Specifications for Active Wheelchair Lifts, Guideline Specifications for Wheelchair Ramps and Guideline Specifications for Wheelchair Securement Devices. Provisions from the Guideline Specifications were supplemented with additional material derived from common accessibility standards, such as the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117.1-1980 specifications, research sponsored by the Access Board, and industry practice. Some provisions for Automated Guideway Transportation (AGT) "people movers" and rapid rail systems were derived from Los Angeles Downtown People Mover: Handbook on Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped (UMTA, November 1980). In addition, the guidelines incorporated provisions of 49 CFR Part 609 for buses, light rail and rapid rail systems published by UMTA in 1976.
These guidelines, codified at 36 CFR Part 1192, are not, in and of themselves, the standards for vehicles but rather form the minimum requirements for standards issued by DOT. DOT has adopted the substance of the guidelines (with minor editorial differences) as the accessibility standards for transportation vehicles. The final DOT regulation establishes effective dates for the accessibility standard and address when the standards are to be applied to vehicles for which a solicitation closes after October 6, 1991. See 49 CFR 37.7. The Manuals in this series will deal only with the requirements for vehicles procured after this date.
The Board's Vehicle Guidelines primarily address new and remanufactured vehicles instead of existing vehicles since the ADA does not necessarily require vehicle retrofit. Existing buses, for example, are not required to be retrofitted to meet the standards of Part 38 of the DOT regulation. Even compliance with the "one-car-per-train rule" and the mobility aid seating requirements for intercity rail cars can be met by the purchase of new vehicles. However, some entities which do not plan to purchase a sufficient number of new vehicles before the compliance date for the "one-car-per-train" rule may choose to retrofit existing vehicles. For these entities, the Board has included provisions in the appropriate general sections concerning such retrofitted vehicles.
The Vehicle Guidelines cover the design, manufacture and alteration of vehicles, not their operation. Operational requirements are within the purview of DOT, not the Board, and are covered by Part 37 of the DOT rule, especially subparts B and G. Except for the possibility of operational procedures allowed under the equivalent facilitation provision, discussed below, the Board's statutory mandate is to ensure accessibility of the built environment, including instances in which operational procedures might fail. For example, the Board cannot assume that the strength, agility and attention of a driver will be sufficient to prevent a heavy wheelchair from rolling off a lift. Thus, the Board has included a requirement for lift platform barriers. Neither is it appropriate, as one transit operator suggested, to assume that fellow passengers will have the strength or skill to assist persons with disabilities to board vehicles. It is just as inappropriate to expect other passengers to lift a wheelchair user into a vehicle as it is to assume others should lift a wheelchair over a curb or carry someone up a flight of stairs to enter a building. Therefore, specific vertical and horizontal gaps for rail vehicles are specified.
Wheelchair Mobility Aids Standards
Neither the ADA, nor any other statute, confers upon the Board the authority to set standards or minimum requirements for wheelchairs and mobility aids. The ADA does, however, provide a clear mandate to the Board to set the minimum requirements for vehicles. The Board has attempted to carry out this charge in the fairest, most cost effective manner possible consistent with the statute.
It should be noted that these Vehicle Guidelines, and the DOT standards based on them, are minimum requirements. Standards or specifications which provide greater access are permitted. In addition, there are sections which expressly permit alternatives (e.g., rear-facing securement). The word "may" is used where alternatives are permitted and should not be construed as a requirement. Also, an appendix has been included in the guidelines which contains non-mandatory, advisory guidance to assist in applying the rule. The material from that appendix has been generally incorporated into the discussion material in this document.
The Board intends to conduct periodic updates and revision of the Vehicle Guidelines so that future technologies and practices can be incorporated into them. As noted in the following discussions, the Board feels that additional data and study are needed regarding certain issues and it intends to further revise and modify these guidelines based on its review of collected data and study results. Also, some variations determined to provide equivalent facilitation may be explicitly incorporated in future updates.
In addition, the Board plans to revise and update these technical manuals as new information or technology surfaces or as the Vehicle Guidelines themselves are changed. In some places in these manuals, notation is made of drafting errors or sections where the regulation itself is unclear. Several non-substantive changes in the regulation will be considered in the next few months and changes will be reflected in revised editions.
How These Manuals Are Organized
Each of these manuals deals with a separate transportation mode or vehicle type, based on a particular subpart of the final regulation (e.g., subpart B - Buses, Vans and Systems; subpart C - Rapid Rail Vehicles and Systems; etc.). However, since subpart A applies to all vehicles, it is included at the beginning of each manual. Each manual is self-contained so that reference to other manuals is not necessary. Where the provisions of the Vehicle Guidelines refer to other modes, or where the DOT regulation requires one type of vehicle to comply with the requirements of another type, the relevant sections are repeated.
The portions of this document which appear in bold are the provisions as they appear in the final Vehicle Guidelines. The text immediately following is a discussion of the rationale. For purposes of this document, the section numbers correspond to the provisions as they appear in Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The numbering system of DOT's regulation follows the same format with the exception of the prefix number (i.e., §1192.23(b)(6) is substantively identical to §38.23(b)(6), etc.). Some of the provisions, particularly the requirements for horizontal gaps and vertical displacement between vehicles and platforms, must be read in conjunction with the station design requirements in 36 CFR Part 1191, which are included as Appendix A of the DOT regulation at 49 CFR Part 37.
The Access Board has also made available a checklist based on its ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for Buildings and Facilities. ADAAG contains requirements for transit facilities, including bus stops and terminals, fixed facilities and stations, and airports. The Board also publishes technical bulletins on certain sections in ADAAG. These publications are available free from the Access Board.