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Updated ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buses and Vans

Executive Summary

Purpose and Legal Authority

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) charges the Access Board with responsibility for the development of minimum guidelines aimed at ensuring the accessibility and usability of transportation vehicles, including buses, over-the-road buses (OTRBs), and vans. See 29 U.S.C. 42 U.S.C. 12204, 12149(b); see also 792(b)(3)(B) & (b)(10) (authorizing Access Board to “establish and maintain” minimum guidelines for standards issued pursuant to titles II and III of the ADA). These guidelines, once adopted by DOT, become enforceable standards. In 1991, the Access Board issued accessibility guidelines for ADA-covered transportation vehicles (including buses, vans, and fixed guideway systems), and amended these guidelines in 1998 to include accessibility requirements for OTRBs.1 Given the passage of nearly two decades, the existing guidelines are in need of a “refresh” for two primary reasons: to incorporate new accessibility-related technologies, such as automated announcement systems and level boarding bus systems, and to ensure that the agency’s transportation vehicle guidelines remain consistent with its other regulations that have been issued since 1998. See, e.g., Americans with Disabilities Act and Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines), 36 CFR part 1191, apps. A - D. The final rule modifies only the existing guidelines for buses, vans, and OTRBs; the current guidelines for transportation vehicles operated in fixed guideway systems (e.g., rapid rail, light rail, commuter rail, and intercity rail) will be updated in a future rulemaking. Compliance with the final rule is not required until DOT adopts these revised guidelines as enforceable accessibility standards for ADA-covered buses, OTRBs, and vans.

In this preamble, the Access Board’s current accessibility requirements set forth in 36 CFR Part 1192 for buses, OTRBs, and vans covered by the ADA are collectively referred to as the “existing guidelines.” The accessibility guidelines established in this final rule for ADA-covered buses, OTRBs, and vans are collectively referred to as the “2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines.” Unless otherwise noted, citations in this preamble to particular sections or subsections refer to provisions in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines.

Summary of Significant Changes

The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines are intended to revise and update the Access Board’s existing guidelines that provide scoping and technical requirements to ensure that ADA-covered buses, OTRBs, and vans are accessible to, and usable by, passengers with disabilities. Some of the key changes reflected in the final rule (relative to the existing guidelines) include:

  • New Organization and Format: The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines use a new organizational approach that is modelled after the Access Board’s accessibility guidelines for buildings and facilities in 36 CFR Part 1191. The new format organizes the revised scoping and technical guidelines for buses, OTRBs, and vans, into seven chapters, all of which are contained in a new appendix to 36 CFR Part 1192. Most of the revisions in the final rule are editorial only, and restate current requirements in plain terms that are clear and easier to understand.
  • Consistent Application of Accessibility Requirements across Different Types of Non-Rail Vehicles: Unlike the vehicle-by-vehicle approach used in the existing guidelines, the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines establish accessibility requirements that, with some exceptions, apply across all covered non-rail vehicles (i.e., buses, OTRBs, and vans), so that accessibility requirements between different types of vehicles are generally similar. The aim is to make these guidelines easier to understand and apply, particularly for regulated parties—such as public transit agencies—that frequently operate different types of non-rail vehicles.
  • New Requirement for Automated Announcement Systems on Large Fixed Route Buses Operated by Large Transit Entities: Large transit entities are required under the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines to provide automated stop and route announcement systems on all large vehicles operating in fixed route bus service that stop at multiple designated stops. Automated announcement systems must have both audible and visible components. For purposes of this requirement, a “large transit entity” is defined as a provider of public transportation that operates 100 or more buses in annual maximum service for all fixed route bus modes collectively based on required annual data reported to the National Transportation Database, which is maintained by the Federal Transit Administration.
  • Revised Requirements for Maximum Running Slope of Ramps. The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines revise and simplify the existing guidelines regarding running slope for ramps in non-rail vehicles. The existing guidelines specify a range of maximum running slopes for vehicle ramps depending on nature of deployment (e.g., deployment to sidewalk or roadway), with 1:4 being the steepest permitted maximum running slope for ramps deployed to the roadway. However, years of field experience and research studies have shown that 1:4 ramps are difficult to use and have resulted in safety concerns for many transit operators and passengers who use wheeled mobility devices. Newer vehicle and ramp designs now make deployment of ramps with lesser slopes feasible. Accordingly, the final rule specifies a maximum running slope of 1:6 for ramps deployed to roadways or curb-height bus stops, and 1:8 for ramps deployed to boarding platforms in level boarding bus systems.
  • New Accessibility Requirements for OTRBs: Under the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, OTRBs operating in fixed route service will be newly required to satisfy the following accessibility requirements: signs for accessible seating and doorways; public address systems; stop request systems; and provision of exterior destination or route signs on the front and boarding sides of vehicles, when exterior signage is provided. These requirements are new only as applied to OTRBs; buses and vans have been covered by similar requirements since 1991.
  • Other Revisions to Reflect Changes in Technologies and Standards: The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines also reflect other changes, such as establishing accessibility requirements for level boarding bus systems and incorporating updated standards for wheelchair securement systems, which did not exist when the existing guidelines were issued.

Discussion of the bases for the key changes embodied in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, as well as proposed changes that were not carried forward to the final rule, is provided in this preamble.

Costs and Benefits

Consistent with Executive Orders 12866 and 13563, the Access Board prepared a final regulatory assessment (Final RA) to assess the likely costs and benefits of new or revised accessibility requirements in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines that are expected have an incremental cost impact relative to its existing guidelines. The results of the Final RA show that, over the studied 12-year regulatory timeframe, annualized costs for the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines are expected to range from $2.3 million to $8.0 million, depending on the cost scenario and discount rate. Presented below are estimated annualized costs for the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines under each of the three cost scenarios (i.e., low, primary, and high) studied in the Final RA, using 3% and 7% discount rates:

Table 1 - Annualized Cost of New or Revised Accessibility Guidelines in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines for Buses, OTRBs, and Vans, All Regulatory Years (3% and 7% Discount Rates)

Discount Rate Low Scenario ($millions) Primary Scenario ($millions) High Scenario ($millions)  
3% $2.6 $5.0 $8.0  
7% $2.3 $4.5 $7.2 {: .usa-table}

The Final RA also assesses the economic impact of the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines from several other cost perspectives, including the cost to large transit entities of complying with the new automated announcement systems requirement, and the costs of the new accessibility requirements for OTRBs. In order to present a more refined evaluation of estimated costs to large transit entities of the automated announcement systems requirement, the Final RA models costs using three prototypical size-based categories—which are denominated Tiers I, II and III—that are intended to be representative of the range of fixed route bus fleets operated by such entities. Tier I models costs for a large transit entity that is on the “smaller” end of the size spectrum (e.g., 130 buses operating in annual maximum fixed route service), while Tier III reflects a large transit entity on the “larger” end of the size spectrum (e.g., 530 buses operating in annual maximum fixed route service). Based on these tiers, the Final RA estimates that per-agency annualized costs for the automated announcement system requirement will range from about $44,000 (for a Tier I agency under the low scenario) to about $430,000 (for a Tier III agency under the high scenario). Under the primary scenario, which models what are considered to be the most likely set of cost assumptions, the Final RA estimates that per-agency costs for automated announcement systems will be as follows for each respective tier: Tier I - $80,659; Tier II - $154,985; and, Tier III: $264,968.

Additionally, in terms of accessibility requirements that are newly applicable to OTRBs, the Final RA shows that the cost impact of these requirements is expected to be relatively modest. Annualized costs per vehicle are expected to range from $631 (low scenario) to $1,513 (high scenario) at a 7% discount rate. In light of this modest cost profile, the Final RA’s small business analysis finds that, while the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines will undoubtedly affect a substantial number of “small business”-sized OTRB firms (in light of small firms’ predominance in the relevant transportation, charter, and sightseeing industry sectors), its economic impact is not expected to be significant or disproportionate relative to other, larger OTRB firms.

Benefits of the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, as discussed in the Final RA, are particularly challenging to quantify or monetize due to a variety of considerations, including insufficient data, methodological constraints, and inherent difficulties in evaluating civil rights-based regulatory provisions that promote important societal values such as equity, fairness, and independence. Consequently, benefits attributable to new and revised requirements in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines—which are expected to be significant—are described from a qualitative perspective.

The Final RA discusses how the new and revised provisions in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines are expected to directly benefit a significant number of Americans with disabilities by ensuring that transit buses and OTRBs are accessible and usable. By addressing communication barriers (and, to a lesser extent, access barriers) encountered on such vehicles by persons with vision, hearing, mobility, and cognitive impairments, the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines will better enable persons with disabilities to use these modes of transportation to work, pursue an education, access health care, worship, shop, or participate in recreational activities. Other individuals and entities, such as transit agencies, are also expected to benefit from the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines through, for example, improved customer satisfaction attributable to automated announcement systems.