ADA Complementary Paratransit

Public transit agencies that run fixed route services must also provide ADA complementary paratransit services for those who are unable to use accessible fixed route services.  (ADA complementary paratransit requirements do not apply to commuter bus, commuter rail, or intercity rail service, however.)  This includes the inability to access vehicles, transit stops, or facilities, or to independently navigate through the system.  Paratransit services are characterized by vehicles that operate flexible routes or demand response service and provide origin-to-destination service.  


Unless stated otherwise, the information in this section is based on U.S. Department of Transportation regulation 49 CFR Part 37- Transportation Services for Individuals with Disabilities (ADA).

ADA Paratransit Service Criteria

ADA complementary paratransit service must be comparable to the fixed route service in a number of areas.  Paratransit service criteria include the following (Section 37.131):


  • Geographic area of service – transit systems that run fixed routes must also provide ADA complementary paratransit service within ¾ mile on either side of the fixed route; this is considered to be the maximum distance a rider would travel to reach a bus or train stop.      
  • Response time –the paratransit ride may not be provided more than an hour before or after the requested time.  
  • Fare- the one-way paratransit fare may be no more than twice the full fixed route fare for a similar trip.  A rider’s personal care attendant may not be charged a fare.  However, at least one additional accompanying individual must be permitted to board and will be required to pay the same fare as the rider (additional companions may accompany the ADA-eligible customer, if space is available).
  • Hours and days of service—ADA paratransit service must be provided on the same days and during the same hours as fixed route service.
  • Trip purpose—there may be no restrictions or priorities based on trip purpose.  Service must be provided regardless of the nature of the trip.
  • Capacity constraints—see discussion below.  

Prohibited Capacity Constraints

You cannot have capacity constraints in ADA complementary paratransit service.  Under the ADA, capacity constraints are defined as any operational patterns or practices that significantly limit the availability of service to ADA paratransit eligible individuals (Section 37.131 f).  Capacity constraints include:


  • Limits on the number of trips an individual may make, or trip waiting lists.
  • Denying trips.
  • Long telephone hold times for trip reservations.
  • Substantial numbers of excessively long trips.
  • Substantial numbers of significantly untimely pickups. 
Due to high demand for ADA paratransit service and limited resources, this tends to be where most transit systems have difficulty in complying with the complementary paratransit regulations. As you will read in the section below, rigorously managing demand through the eligibility process is a way to combat capacity constraint issues.

Eligibility and Managing Demand

ADA regulations require transit providers to conduct an eligibility determination process that strictly limits eligibility for complementary paratransit service to individuals who are not able to use accessible fixed route services due to a disability.  It is important to establish exactly when an individual’s functional ability enables him/her to use the fixed route system and when he/she requires paratransit service.  

Establishing and following an accurate ADA paratransit eligibility process is critical both to protecting individuals’ civil rights under the ADA and to managing demand so that paratransit service is available for those who need it.   Transit managers are encouraged to read Sections 37.123-127 of Part 37 carefully and to consult the Easter Seals Project Action (ESPA) and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) resources on ADA paratransit eligibility that are listed at the end of this section.  Key points about ADA eligibility criteria and the eligibility determination process are discussed below. 

There are three eligibility categories and three types of eligibility:     

Eligibility Categories (personal eligibility):
  • A person with a disability who cannot navigate the transit system without assistance.
  • A person with a disability who requires an accessible vehicle when one is not available.
  • A person with a disability who is unable to reach the transit stop. 
Eligibility Types (trip eligibility):
  • Unconditional eligibility (all trips) – this rider is unable to use the fixed route service under any conditions.
  • Conditional eligibility (some trips) – this rider can use the fixed route service in specific situations, such as a fixed route with a close and accessible stop.  However, if a stop is too far or is inaccessible, this rider may qualify for paratransit.  It is important that the conditions of his/her eligibility be clearly defined and understood by both the rider and the reservationists/schedulers and dispatchers.  
  • Temporary eligibility (defined period of time) – this rider only requires paratransit for a limited period of time.

Visitors who are certified eligible for ADA paratransit services in their home areas are eligible for paratransit services in your area for up to 21 days.  If they do not have an ID card stating their eligibility in another system, you can require that they instead show proof of residency and ask about their disability, if the disability is not apparent. Visitors do not have to show an ID card to be eligible for your services.

The source of these descriptions is the DREDF Topic Guide on Eligibility for ADA Paratransit. For more details, please see the full guide.

Careful determination of eligibility for ADA complementary paratransit service is a legal requirement and can be an effective way to manage demand for the service. Appropriate use of conditional eligibility can be particularly effective.  

A transit provider may apply the conditions of an individual’s eligibility to each trip request he/she makes. This practice is referred to as “trip-by-trip eligibility” or “trip eligibility.” Trip-by-trip eligibility, if implemented properly, helps to manage demand by identifying trips that can be made reasonably on the fixed route system, while preserving the individual’s eligibility for paratransit service when his/her functional ability makes it necessary.  

An example of this is when a person who uses a wheelchair may be able to reach the transit stop and use the accessible fixed route service on his/her own during the mild weather.  However, he/she may not be able to reach the transit stop when the sidewalks are covered in snow or ice. On those occasions, he/she is eligible to use the ADA complementary paratransit service, but on days when the path to the transit stop is clear and accessible, the individual should use the accessible fixed route service. Reservationists should be aware of the exact type of service the individual is eligible for when fielding requests.

To assist both the reservationist and the rider, conditions for the paratransit eligibility should be clearly defined.  In our example above, it is better to state the exact conditions when the rider is unable to travel to the transit stop (when there is ice/snow on the sidewalks) rather than simply saying he/she is eligible “during the winter months” or “during bad weather.”  There are many days during the winter when there is no snow/ice on the ground, and the description “bad weather” is too vague.  Clearly defining conditional eligibility is the most effective way to manage demand and ensure that riders who need paratransit are being served.  The Topic Guide on Eligibility for ADA Paratransit offers practical guidance on incorporating conditional eligibility into daily operations.

While many transit systems use paper forms to collect rider information to determine eligibility, increasingly systems are moving to more personal, hands-on approaches.  These approaches include phone or in-person interviews, functional assessments, and combinations of the above.  

Eligibility process

  • If a rider makes the request, you must provide all information about the process, materials necessary to apply for eligibility and notices and determinations concerning eligibility in accessible formats.
  • If, by a date 21 days following the submission of a complete application, you have not made a determination of eligibility, you must treat the applicant as eligible and provide service until and unless you deny the application.
  • You must put your determination concerning the eligibility in writing.  If the determination is that the individual is ineligible, the determination must state the reasons for the finding.
  • Because this is a civil rights issue, there must be a system in place by which a rider can appeal any decisions that are made concerning eligibility.  Eligibility appeals must be handled by someone who did not make the original decision.

For more information about the eligibility process, please see the DREDF Topic Guide on Eligibility for ADA Paratransit and TCRP Synthesis 116: Practices for Establishing ADA Paratransit Eligibility Assessment Facilities.


Other ADA Paratransit Operational Requirements


Origin-to-Destination Service

Under Section 37.129, you are required to provide complementary paratransit service that is “origin-to-destination.”  As a transit provider, you can establish whether you will provide door-to-door or curb-to-curb service as your basic mode of paratransit service, but there may be times when you must offer service beyond this base level when required due to a passenger’s disability.  FTA, in its Disability Law Guidance document, gives the following examples of when “origin-to-destination” service might be necessary:







  • The nature of a particular individual’s disability or adverse weather conditions may prevent him/her from negotiating the distance from the door of his/her home to the curb.
  • A physical barrier (e.g., sidewalk construction) may prevent a passenger from traveling between the curb and the door of his/her destination point.
Providing this level of service may require more time from the driver than on a base-level service stop, and because of this the FTA has deemed it reasonable that transit providers ask for advance notice from any passenger in need of this assistance when the reason for the additional assistance is known in advance of the trip.  

To read more, please see the FTA’s full guidance document.

Rider No-Shows

You are permitted to temporarily suspend service to individuals who are repeated no-shows.  A no-show does not count, however, if the ride was missed due to circumstances outside of the rider’s control.  You should consult the DREDF Topic Guide on No-Shows in ADA Paratransit in order to establish what qualifies as a no-show and what situations are qualified to be beyond a rider’s control. 

DREDF Topic Guide on No-Shows in ADA Paratransit


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