New Developments

This section of the toolkit is dedicated to new topics and developments that relate to rural transit accessibility and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements that apply to rural public transit providers. It will be updated as new materials and information are available and when new questions emerge that may need additional explanation.  This section is organized into the following subsections:


New and Emerging Transportation Modes

The public transportation industry involves a growing array of travel modes and technologies.  “Shared mobility,” “microtransit,” and “shared micromobility” are often used to categorize transportation modes which are increasingly part of landscape of community mobility options. Different organizations offer varying and interrelated definitions of these terms. See the glossary in this toolkit for definitions of these terms.

It should be noted that the term “scooter” in the context of shared mobility, microtransit, or shared micromobility generally refers to two-wheeled scooters on which the user stands. This type of device is different from the 3-wheeled (or more) scooter that falls under the U.S. DOT ADA regulation definition of “wheelchair,” on which the user sits.  That said, a two-wheeled scooter could be used as a mobility device by some individuals with disabilities.

An overarching requirement of U.S. DOT ADA regulations is that “No entity shall discriminate against an individual with a disability in connection with the provision of transportation service” [49 CFR Section 37.5(a)]. In other words, any transportation service must be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Depending upon the service design, shared-used mobility, microtransit, and shared micromobility modes would be subject to the requirements of either the fixed route or demand responsive categories in 49 CFR Part 37, and vehicles may be subject to 49 CFR Part 38.  A transit agency that is considering starting a shared-used mobility, microtransit, and shared micromobility program is advised to consult with the U.S. DOT or FTA to determine how these regulations apply.  ADA compliance is required regardless of whether or not federal funding is used for a service or program.  However, ADA compliance is also a condition of eligibility for federal funding [49 CFR Part 27].  Further, program access requirements of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) ADA regulations may also apply.

Also, if any of these modes or technologies are used to provide part of a transit agency’s demand responsive system, whether or not federal funding is involved, the transit agency must ensure that the demand responsive system, when viewed in its entirety, provides a level of service to individuals with disabilities equivalent to the level of service it provides to individuals without disabilities.  Equivalent service for individuals with disabilities must be provided in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individual and must be equivalent to the service provided other individuals with respect to seven service operating characteristics which are specified in 49 CFR Section 37.77(c), detailed in Section 7.4 of the FTA ADA Circular, and summarized under Equivalent Service Standards in the Demand Response Requirements section of this toolkit.  These operating characteristics are:

  • Response time
  • Fares
  • Geographic area of service
  • Hours and days of service
  • Restrictions or priorities based on trip purpose
  • Availability of information and reservations capability
  • Any constraints on capacity or service availability

U.S. DOT has issued guidance specific to using taxis and TNCs to provide part of a transit agency’s services.  A “Dear Colleague” letter on shared mobility issued by U.S. DOT on December 5, 2016 affirms that transit agencies that rely on external transportation providers to provide any portion of their demand response services need to ensure that people with disabilities are provided with an equal level of access based on the seven operating characteristics required for demand response systems.  FTA has published to its website frequently asked questions on shared mobility guidance and ADA.

Transit agencies may also be asked to accommodate a shared mobility device, such as a two-wheeled scooter or e-scooter, on the vehicle when the device is used by a rider with a disability as a mobility device.  Section 2.4.2 of the FTA ADA Circular notes that transit agencies are not required to accommodate devices that are not primarily designed for use by individuals with mobility impairments, including items such as bicycles and skateboards.

Another consideration for shared use equipment like bicycles and scooters is the possibility that the equipment, when not in use, can become a barrier on the sidewalk. This may cause the sidewalk to become temporarily inaccessible to individuals with disabilities and those who use wheelchairs, and potentially block access to bus stops. To the extent that local government entities fail to control the use of such devices, this may become a factor in determining paratransit eligibility.


New and Emerging Technologies

Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

FTA is exploring the use of automation technologies in transit operations. Autonomous, “self-driving” vehicles, could not only expand transit options in the future, but may also provide individuals with disabilities with expanded personal mobility choices.  An autonomous vehicle is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and moving safely with little or no human input.  Connected vehicles and infrastructure use technology to communicate with one another. 

As explored in Self-Driving Cars: Mapping Access to a Technology Revolution, a November 2015 report published by the National Council on Disability, automated vehicles hold great promise for people with disabilities, as well as obstacles that people with disabilities face to realizing that promise. 

A June 2018 report from the National Center for Mobility Management (NCMM), Autonomous Vehicles: Considerations for People with Disabilities and Older Adults introduces considerations for physical accessibility and interface (i.e., through an app or a website) accessibility considerations. 

The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) has developed a working draft checklist for fully accessible autonomous vehicles that addresses the human to machine interface, hardware, and policy and legislation.

On December 3, 2018, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) issued CCD Transportation Task Force Autonomous Vehicle Principles. This document lists principles and recommendations adopted by the CCD Transportation Task Force and partner advocacy organizations related to autonomous vehicle accessibility, licensing, insurance, costs, data (including privacy of users and safety data), infrastructure, legislation, research, funding, and service integration.

In April 2019, ITS America published a whitepaper titled Driverless Cars and Accessibility: Designing the Future of Transportation for People with Disabilities. This document outlines the challenges for accessibility in road transportation and unique design considerations for automated vehicles. It discusses accessible human machine interfaces for automated vehicles. The whitepaper also recommends next steps for the industry and the disability community.

Widespread deployment of fully autonomous automobiles may not be as imminent as previously believed, according to news reports such as a July 2019 article in the New York Times. Automated vehicles are also very much an emerging technology in terms of regulation. NCMM's Autonomous Vehicles: Considerations for People with Disabilities and Older Adults notes that, at the time of the report, there was no federal law that specifically governs autonomous vehicles, while many state governments had passed laws that provide for research to conducted, with some states having passed laws allowing autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads to be tested, or to establish a graduated regulatory system. 

This selected list of literature published on autonomous vehicles and considerations related to their use by people with disabilities indicates the complexity of this aspect of autonomous vehicle technology.  As the technology (and U.S. DOT regulation) for automated vehicles continues to develop, National RTAP will continue to monitor any ADA-related considerations that may also emerge.


Wheelchair Charging Stations

Wheelchair charging stations are an amenity that some transit agencies are beginning to offer at transit stations and even on buses.  This is a customer amenity-related best practice rather than an ADA compliance concern.  Providing riders who use power wheelchairs and other battery-powered mobility devices can help prevent the rider from getting stranded due to an exhausted battery.  More information is available in National RTAP’s Best Practices Spotlight Article: Wheelchair Charging at Transit Stations and on the Bus.


Recent Changes to ADA-Related Federal Rules and Standards

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Final Standards and Guidelines

As noted in the FTA Circular, while the U.S. DOT ADA regulations do not set standards for website accessibility, technical guidance on making websites accessible can be found in U.S. Access Board Section 508 Standards for Information and Communication technology. In 2017, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board revised and updated standards for electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934. The revisions ensure that information and communication technology is accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. This final rule was published in the Federal Register on January 18, 2017 and amended on January 22, 2018 (effective March 23, 2018).  This is mentioned here only as technical guidance.


Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has undoubtably been one of the new developments with the most far-reaching ramifications of our time. The novel respiratory virus has spread rapidly to all areas of the country and the world, and has resulted in shutdowns of businesses, schools, and workplaces where public transportation would normally travel to. At the time of this writing, there is no known vaccine or cure; prevention measures include wearing masks, frequent hand-washing, cleaning and disinfecting touchable surfaces, social distancing with at least 6 feet between individuals, testing symptomatic individuals, and quarantine of infected individuals. For rural transit agencies providing service to riders with disabilities, the pandemic has raised many questions about how to provide U.S. DOT ADA-compliant service while protecting the health and safety of drivers and passengers.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has answered many of these questions on their Frequently Asked Questions from FTA Grantees Regarding Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) web page. Answers posted through October 27, 2020 are summarized here:

  • If a transit agency makes adjustments to their fixed route system routes or schedules, or shuts down the fixed route service to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency may make similar adjustments to the ADA complementary paratransit system. They may not shut down their ADA paratransit operations while still operating fixed route services.
  • ADA complementary paratransit providers may not impose “essential trip” restrictions or priorities based on trip purpose, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Transit agencies concerned about riders exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 should contact local and state public health officials to determine under what circumstances service may be denied to any transit rider, regardless of whether they have a disability.
  • If transit agencies offer free fares during the COVID-19 pandemic on their fixed route services, they must also offer free fares on their ADA complementary paratransit services.
  • If a transit agency implements rear-door boarding to support social distancing, riders with disabilities must be accommodated through the front door if they need to do so.
  • Transit agencies may temporarily suspend wheelchair securement policies due to COVID-19 infection concerns, but drivers must still assist riders with securement if riders make requests.
  • Transit systems may suspend in-person ADA complementary paratransit eligibility assessments and use a remote or paper process for eligibility determinations.
  • Transit agencies may hold ADA complementary paratransit eligibility appeal hearings via telephone, video conference, or other virtual processes.  Where a remote appeal cannot effectively be performed, a transit agency may allow the 30-day deadline for appeal determinations and grant eligibility until an in-person appeal can be heard.
  • CARES Act funds cannot be used to support Section 5310 (Enhanced Mobility of Seniors & Individuals with Disabilities) services.

Note that state governors may enact orders specific to their states.  For example, one governor issued an executive order declaring that people and organizations providing services for people with disabilities are exempt from emergency measures impacting movement.

Technical assistance resources are available to transit agencies to help them best serve their riders with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) has published a best practices article on wheelchair securement. They recommend asking passengers to turn their head towards the window as the driver secures their wheelchair, not having conversations during wheelchair securement, a process for sanitizing securement belts, and offering masks to riders. National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) has compiled guidance from many agencies serving persons with disabilities on Implementing New COVID-19 Policies for People with Disabilities.

Section Sources:

Updated October 27, 2020