The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the Access Board to issue guidelines for transportation vehicles—including buses, OTRBs, and vans—to ensure that new, used and remanufactured vehicles are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. See 42 U.S.C. 12204. These guidelines serve as the baseline for enforceable accessibility standards issued by DOT for ADA-covered transportation vehicles. 42 U.S.C. 12204.

The Access Board first issued transportation vehicle accessibility guidelines in September 1991. See 56 FR 45530 (Sept. 6, 1991) (codified at 36 CFR pt. 1192, subpts. A-F). These guidelines establish accessibility requirements for new, used or remanufactured transportation vehicles—which included buses, vans, and rail vehicles operated in fixed guideway systems, but excluded OTRBs—covered by the ADA. These accessibility requirements relate to, among other things, ramps and lifts, onboard circulation, wheelchair spaces and securement devices, priority seats, stop request systems, and exterior route or destination signs. Id. With respect to announcement systems, these guidelines require large buses operating in fixed route service to be equipped with public address systems that permit announcement of stops or other passenger information. See 36 CFR 1192.35. The same day, DOT adopted the Access Board’s guidelines as enforceable accessibility standards for transportation vehicles covered by the ADA. See 56 FR 45584 (Sept. 6, 1991) (codified at 49 CFR pt. 37).

In 1998, the Access Board and DOT issued a joint final rule amending their respective existing transportation vehicle guidelines and standards to include accessibility requirements for OTRBs. See 63 FR 51694 (Sept. 28, 1998) (codified at 36 CFR pt. 1192, subpt. G & 49 CFR pt. 38, subpt. H). While many of the accessibility requirements for OTRBs in the 1998 amendments were the same as those applicable to buses and vans, they were not identical. OTRBs, for example, were not required to provide public address systems, stop request systems, or exterior signage identifying destinations or routes.

Other than these 1998 amendments, the Access Board’s vehicle guidelines have not been modified since their initial issuance in 1991. Since that time, new or updated technologies (such as low floor buses, intelligent transportation systems, and automated announcement systems), transit system designs (such as bus rapid transit and level boarding bus systems), and accessibility standards have emerged. Such changes led the Access Board to begin informal efforts to update its existing transportation vehicle guidelines.

First, in April 2007, the Board published draft revisions to the existing guidelines that proposed changes to accessibility requirements for buses and vans. See Availability of Draft Revisions to Guidelines, 72 FR 18179 (April 11, 2007); U.S. Access Board, Draft Revisions to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buses and Vans (2007) (available on the Access Board website) [hereafter, “2007 Draft Revised Guidelines”].2 Among other things, the 2007 Draft Revised Guidelines proposed that large buses used in multiple-stop, fixed route service be required to have automated stop and route announcement systems. This proposed requirement applied to all transit agencies operating fixed route buses regardless of their location or size of bus fleet. The 2007 draft also proposed to decrease the maximum running slope of vehicle ramps to 1:8 (as compared to the existing guidelines, which specify a range of ramp slopes from 1:4 to 1:12, depending on deployment), require additional maneuvering clearance where a wheelchair space is confined on three sides, and require a 36-inch wide onboard circulation path from accessible doorways to wheelchair spaces (as compared to the existing guidelines, which require “sufficient clearance” for passengers who use wheelchairs).

The following year, in November 2008, the Board published a notice of availability for a second set of draft revised guidelines for public review and comment. See Availability of Draft Revisions to Guidelines, 73 FR 69592 (Nov. 19, 2008); U.S. Access Board, Revised Draft of Accessibility Guidelines for Buses and Vans (2008) (available on the Access Board website) [hereafter, “2008 Draft Revised Guidelines”].3 Among other things, the 2008 Draft Revised Guidelines reflected a significantly revamped format and organization more akin to the Board’s then-recent revisions to its revised ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines, rather than a “conventional” regulatory format. Id. at 69592. The 2008 Draft Revised Guidelines also incorporated changes in several proposed accessibility requirements in response to comments. Specifically, application of the automated announcement systems requirement was narrowed by proposing that only large transit agencies operating 100 or more buses in annual maximum service (referred to as “VOMS”) be required to deploy automated announcement systems on their large, fixed-route buses. This 100-bus VOMS threshold was added at the behest of commenters, including the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), who urged the Access Board to add a “small fleet exemption” to the automated announcement system requirement. Additional proposed changes in the 2008 Draft Revised Guidelines included: increasing the maximum running slope for ramps and bridgeplates to 1:6 when deployed to the roadway; decreasing the proposed maneuvering clearances for wheelchair spaces; and, decreasing the proposed minimum clear width for circulation paths to 34 inches. Additionally, the 2008 Draft Revised Guidelines included proposed accessibility requirements for OTRBs and level boarding bus systems, which the 2007 draft revised guidelines had not addressed.

In July 2010, the Access Board formally commenced the rulemaking process by issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking to update the existing guidelines for buses, OTRBs, and vans. See Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles, 75 FR 43748 (July 26, 2010) (hereafter, “2010 NPRM”). Aside from minor editorial changes, the proposed rule was substantively similar to the draft revised guidelines issued two years earlier. In particular, based on strong support from commenters to the 2008 Draft Revised Guidelines, the automated announcement systems requirement (including a VOMS 100 threshold for large transit agencies) and the 1:6 maximum ramp slope requirement were carried forward to the proposed rule. To augment the written notice-and-comment process, the Board also held public hearings on the proposed rule in Chicago, IL and Washington, DC.

After the close of the comment period on the 2010 NPRM, the Access Board received reports from transit operators and a transportation consultant that some passengers who use wheelchairs were experiencing problems with new ramps that had been designed to meet the proposed 1:6 maximum running slope for ramps when deployed to the roadway. Accordingly, the Board reopened the comment period on the proposed rule and held two on-the-record public meetings to gather additional information on the feasibility and safety of the new ramp designs. See Notice of Public Information Meeting and Reopening of Comment Period, 77 FR 50068 (Aug. 20, 2012).