Route Deviation Service Requirements

This section of the toolkit discussions aspects of route deviation service that should be considered in light of ADA compliance, and is organized in the following subsections:


The information presented in this section is based on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations in 49 CFR Part 37- Transportation Services for Individuals with Disabilities (ADA)  and the FTA Circular 4710.1, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Guidance.

Click here to download a sample ADA policy template for a rural transit system that operates route deviation service.


Characteristics of Route Deviation Service

Route deviation is also referred to as deviated route, deviated fixed route, flexible route, or flex route service. Route deviation service can be a way to stretch limited resources in areas of low population and this type of service is frequently operated in rural areas.

As described in Section 7.5.4 of the FTA ADA Circular, route deviation service operates along established routes that typically have designated stops.  Between these stops, vehicles deviate from an established route to pick up or drop off riders within a defined off-route service area.  The circular also notes that riders are typically asked to call in advance to request off-route pickups. 

For the purpose of ADA regulations, transit systems are considered to be either fixed route or demand responsive systems [Section 37.3].  While some systems are clearly one or the other, systems that provide route deviation service can be harder to categorize.  Appendix D to 49 CFR 37.3 states that U.S. DOT would regard a system that permits user-initiated deviations from routes or schedules as demand-responsive. This distinction is important, because demand-responsive service is not subject to the requirement for complementary paratransit service.

In order to be considered demand-responsive, a route deviation system must deviate in response to a request from any passenger.

Some rural transit agencies operate route deviation service that does not deviate for all riders.  A route deviation service that does not deviate for all riders is not demand-responsive service within the context of the U.S. DOT ADA regulations.  Unless the route deviates for any passenger, it is not demand responsive and therefore subject to the requirements for a fixed route system, including the provision of ADA complementary paratransit service.  The U.S. DOT ADA regulations do not prohibit commingling (combining) ADA complementary paratransit and fixed route riders on the same vehicle (i.e., commingled service).  However, as discussed in Section 7.5.4 of the FTA ADA Circular and later in this section of the toolkit, commingled fixed route bus service and complementary paratransit service using the same vehicle is difficult to implement.


General Requirements

All readers are advised to review the general requirements for ALL service types that are summarized on the General Requirements section of this toolkit.


Route Deviation Service for the General Public

As with all demand response services, the requirement is that all vehicles used in route deviation service are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including wheelchair users. Inaccessible vehicles may only be used as long as the system, when viewed in its entirety, provides an equivalent level of service for its riders with disabilities for seven specific service characteristics (listed below and described in more detail in the Demand Response Requirements section of this toolkit).

Vehicle Accessibility

Vehicles purchased for demand responsive systems must be accessible (i.e., comply with 49 CFR Part 38, as described in the Vehicle and Facility Accessibility section of this toolkit) unless the system, when viewed in its entirety, provides an equivalent service to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, is provided in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individual with respect to the service characteristics listed in the next section [Section 37.77(c)].

As noted in Section 7.5.4 of the FTA ADA Circular, typically, all vehicles used in route deviation service are accessible, as it would be difficult to provide equivalent service with a mixed fleet. Riders needing accessible vehicles would not have the same ability to catch the next bus at a scheduled stop if only certain runs were provided with accessible vehicles.

Equivalent Service Standards

Service provided to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, must be equivalent to the service provided to other individuals in the following ways [Section 37.77(c)]:

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

Ensuring Nondiscrimination in Route Deviations

In order to be considered demand responsive service, a transit agency also needs to advertise the availability of route deviations (e.g., including the information on schedules and in other public information)—and to provide the requested deviations as advertised. The FTA ADA Circular notes that designating services as route deviation in plans and other documents, but not advertising them as such, would be considered a discriminatory practice.

The circular also noted that it would be discriminatory to establish restrictive policies for deviations that would significantly limit the use of the service by individuals with disabilities who are not able to get to and from designated stops.  Examples include charging excessive surcharges for deviations, establishing overly restrictive areas within which riders can request deviations, limiting deviations to only certain trip purposes, and unreasonably capping the number of permitted deviations.


Commingled Fixed Route and Paratransit Service

It may be possible to provide fixed route and ADA complementary paratransit service using the same vehicle through a form of route deviation service, though this can be difficult.  This type of service is referred to as commingled service in Section 7.5.4 of the FTA ADA Circular. Under such a scenario, the transit agency would provide fixed route service, but deviate for paratransit-eligible persons with disabilities according to the service criteria established under 49 CFR Part 37, Subpart F, which are listed and explained in the ADA Complementary Paratransit section to the Service Criteria anchor].  The transit agency must also implement a paratransit eligibility determination (and appeal) process for those who would like to request route deviations because they are unable to use fixed route.  

Transit agencies opting to meet ADA complementary paratransit requirements through commingled service may experience great difficulty keeping to the route’s published schedule due to the need to deviate ¾-mile on either side of the route for ADA paratransit eligible riders without introducing prohibited capacity constraints.  One solution to this problem is to meet some of the ADA complementary paratransit demand through supplemental dial-a-ride or other demand response service that meets the ADA complementary paratransit criteria for eligible rides for those busier times.  As noted in Section 7.5.4 of the FTA ADA Circular, this supplemental service could be an existing service provided by a rural transit agency. 

Section 7.6.2 of the FTA ADA Circular discusses commingling dial-a-ride and complementary paratransit service.  See “Comingled Dial-A-Ride and Complementary Paratransit Service” in Section 7.6.2 of the FTA ADA Circular for FTA suggestions for tracking and analyzing combined services to ensure compliance with ADA complementary paratransit requirements.


Section Sources

Updated June 2, 2020