Background

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the provision of transportation services by public and private entities.  42 U.S.C. §§12101 et seq.  The ADA sets out different responsibilities for the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) and the Department of Transportation with respect to implementing the statute.

The ADA requires the Access Board to issue guidelines for transportation vehicles that are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.  42 U.S.C. §12204.  These guidelines, by themselves, are not legally enforceable and do not require existing transportation vehicles to be retrofitted.1

The ADA requires the Department of Transportation to issue regulations that specify:

  • Which public and private entities must comply with the transportation provisions of the ADA;
  • When transportation vehicles acquired or remanufactured (i.e., structurally restored and new or rebuilt major components installed to extend the vehicle’s service life) by the public or private entities must be accessible; and
  • What accessibility standards the transportation vehicles must meet.  42 U.S.C. §12149, 12164, and 12186 (a).

The ADA requires the accessibility standards for transportation vehicles included in the Department of Transportation’s regulations to be consistent with the guidelines issued by the Access Board.  42 U.S.C. §12149, 12163, 12186 (c).  The Department of Transportation’s regulations are legally enforceable.

Prior Rulemaking

The Access Board issued accessibility guidelines for transportation vehicles in 1991 and amended the guidelines in 1998 to include additional requirements for over-the-road buses (i.e., buses characterized by an elevated passenger deck located over a baggage compartment).  56 FR 45530, September 6, 1991; 63 FR 51694, September 28, 1998.  The Access Board’s transportation vehicle guidelines are codified at 36 CFR part 1192.

The Department of Transportation issued regulations to implement the transportation provisions of the ADA in 1991.  56 FR 45621 and 45756, September 6, 1991.  The Department of Transportation’s regulations are codified at 49 CFR parts 37 and 38.  The Department of Transportation’s regulations at 49 CFR part 37 specify in:

  • Subpart B (§37.21 to 37.37) which public and private entities must comply with the transportation provisions of the ADA;
  • Subpart D (§37.71 to 37.93) when transportation vehicles acquired or remanufactured by public entities must be accessible;
  • Subpart E (§37.101 to 37.109) when transportation vehicles acquired or remanufactured by private entities must be accessible; and
  • Subpart H (§37.181 to 37.197) when over-the-road buses acquired or remanufactured by private entities must be accessible.

The Department of Transportation’s regulations in 49 CFR Part 38 set out the accessibility standards that the transportation vehicles must meet.  The accessibility standards in 49 CFR Part 38 are consistent the Access Board’s transportation vehicle guidelines in 36 CFR Part 1192.

Proposed Rule

The Access Board is issuing this proposed rule to revise and update its accessibility guidelines for buses, over-the-road buses, and vans (hereinafter referred to as the “1991 guidelines”).  The guidelines for transportation vehicles operated in fixed guideway systems (e.g., rapid rail, light rail, commuter rail, and intercity rail) will be revised and updated at a future date.

The proposed rule addresses the following issues, which are further discussed later in the preamble:

  • When the 1991 guidelines were issued, low floor ramped buses were relatively new and ramp slopes were based on what was feasible at the time.  The 1991 guidelines permitted 1:4 maximum ramp slopes at bus stops without sidewalks.  There are documented incidents of wheelchairs and their occupants tipping over backwards going up bus ramps with 1:4 slopes.  Since the 1991 guidelines were issued, buses have been designed with lower floors and longer ramps that have less steep ramps.  The proposed rule specifies 1:6 maximum slopes for ramps deployed to bus stops with sidewalks and to bus stops without sidewalks (referred to as the “roadway” in the proposed rule).
  • The 1991 guidelines require buses, over-the-road buses, and vans to provide “sufficient clearances” for passengers who use wheelchairs to reach the wheelchair spaces in the vehicles.  Individuals with disabilities, transit operators, and vehicle manufacturers have requested guidance on what are “sufficient clearances.” The proposed rule specifies minimum dimensions for circulation paths connecting doorways that provide accessible boarding and wheelchair spaces, and for wheelchairs to maneuver into and out of wheelchair spaces.
  • Additional research has been conducted on wheelchair transportation safety since the 1991 guidelines were issued.  The proposed rule reduces the design force for wheelchair securement systems on large vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 30,000 pounds or more, and adds a requirement for a forward excursion barrier at rear facing wheelchair securement systems based on the research.  The proposed rule also requests comments on other recommendations submitted by researchers and safety experts regarding wheelchair securement systems.
  • Public transit agencies are increasingly deploying intelligent transportation system technologies on buses.  These technologies enable automated stop and route announcements on buses.  The proposed rule requires public transit agencies that operate 100 or more buses in annual maximum service in fixed route systems to provide automated stop and route announcements on newly acquired buses that are more than 22 feet in length and operate in fixed route systems.
  • Bus rapid transit is a new type of service that did not exist when the 1991 guidelines were issued.  Some bus rapid transit systems are designed with raised platforms to provide level boarding, and the vehicles which operate in these systems can have passenger doors on both sides of the vehicle.  The proposed rule addresses how the requirements for accessible boarding, circulation paths, and doorways apply to vehicles which operate in bus rapid transit systems that provide level boarding.

The proposed rule also removes some requirements in the 1991 guidelines that are unnecessary, modifies other requirements, and adds a few new requirements.  A side-by-side comparison of the 1991 guidelines and the proposed rule is available on the Access Board’s website at http://www.access-board.gov/transit/.  The side-by-side comparison shows what requirements are removed, modified, or new.