Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issues regulations implementing the transportation and related provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. The regulations at 49 CFR parts 27, 37, 38, and 39 set specific requirements transportation providers must follow to ensure their services, vehicles, and facilities are accessible to and useable by people with disabilities. The body of regulations is vast, covering multiple modes of public transportation, including fixed route bus and rail (e.g., rapid, commuter, and light rail); ADA complementary paratransit; general public demand responsive service; and ferry service. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), as an agency within DOT, is charged with ensuring that providers of public transportation comply with the regulations.
In 2010, FTA initiated a comprehensive management review of the agency's core guidance to transit grantees on ADA and other civil rights requirements. A primary goal of the review was to assess whether FTA was providing sufficient, proactive assistance to grantees in meeting civil rights requirements, as opposed to reacting to allegations of failure to comply with the requirements. Based on the review, FTA identified the need to develop an ADA circular similar to the circulars long in place for other programs. The current body of statutes and regulations in the ADA area can be imposing, and in some cases, extremely technical. FTA recognized value to the transit industry and other stakeholders in compiling and organizing information by topic into a plain English, easy-to-use format. A circular does not alter, amend, or otherwise affect the DOT ADA regulations themselves or replace or reduce the need for detailed information in the regulations. Its format, however, can provide a helpful outline of basic requirements with references to the applicable regulatory sections, along with examples of practices used by transit providers to meet the requirements. Simply stated, a circular can be a starting point for understanding ADA requirements in the transit environment.
Therefore, FTA is proposing the phased development of a new circular, FTA C 4710.1, with the initial chapter focused on vehicle acquisition. This notice provides a summary of the proposed chapter. The chapter does not contain any new requirements, policies, or directives. The chapter itself is not included in this notice; an electronic version may be found on FTA's Web site, at
The “Vehicle Acquisition” chapter begins with an introductory section that provides a brief background on the purpose of the circular and this chapter specifically. The chapter is designed to be a reference document for public entities acquiring vehicles to ensure these vehicles meet the requirements of the DOT ADA regulations in 49 CFR part 37, subpart D, and 49 CFR part 38. Importantly, this section also states what this circular project is not intended to accomplish—the circular is not a substitute for the DOT ADA regulations; public transportation providers are advised in this section to use this circular in addition to (not in lieu of) the regulations. The section then introduces in broad terms the DOT ADA regulations applicable to vehicle acquisition, explaining that 49 CFR part 38 sets the technical design specifications for accessible vehicles, while Part 37 defines the conditions under which vehicles must be purchased as accessible or made accessible. The section ends by emphasizing that although a public entity may use a contractor to provide service, it cannot contract away its ADA responsibility; the contractor “stands in the shoes” of the public entity and must meet the same requirements that would apply if the public entity were acquiring or remanufacturing its own vehicles.
After the introductory section, the chapter moves onto Section 2, “Acquisition Requirements for Public Entities.” This section explains how the acquisition requirements vary in Part 37 depending upon the following factors: (1) Vehicle type (rail and non-rail); (2)
Section 3 is titled “The Main Elements of Accessible Vehicles” and summarizes the required design specifications in Part 38 by vehicle type. The section begins by emphasizing that an accessible bus or rail car involves much more than features for boarding and alighting individuals who use wheelchairs, which is how accessibility is commonly envisioned. Handrails, slip-resistant flooring, public address systems, and sufficient lighting, for example, are all part of an accessible vehicle, in addition to lifts, ramps, and securement systems. The section does not attempt to restate all of the Part 38 specifications but rather highlights the main points by vehicle type with accompanying photographs and diagrams, and refers the reader to the appropriate part of the regulations for more detail. For rail cars, the section highlights four areas that have been of particular interest to transit systems and members of the public: The platform gap, mobility aid accessibility, priority seating, and between-car barriers.
Section 4, “Ensuring that Vehicles Are Compliant,” addresses ways a transportation provider can ensure that the vehicles it plans to acquire are accessible under Part 38 and useable to individuals with disabilities. Strategies presented include ensuring that bid packages spell out specific accessibility requirements in detail, seeking public input to ensure that the solicited vehicles can be used by as many persons with disabilities as possible, and inspecting the vehicles at the appropriate time in the procurement cycle.
Complementing Section 4 is an attachment titled “Sample Bus and Van Specification Checklist” that lists the design elements in Part 38 applicable to non-rail vehicles. It is a document FTA uses in its compliance reviews when assessing whether a transportation provider's buses comply with Part 38. The checklist is provided here as an example of a tool a transportation provider could replicate to use in its factory inspections to ensure the vehicles it plans to acquire are compliant long before delivery. A grantee may decide to develop similar checklists to inspect rail cars.
The chapter ends with a list of definitions taken from the DOT ADA regulations, a list of statutory and regulatory authorities, and a reference list.
The Vehicle Acquisition chapter is the first in approximately 12 chapters that will compose FTA's ADA circular. Because of the breadth of the ADA, FTA is developing this circular in segments. The next chapter currently under development is “Equivalent Facilitation,” which will outline how a grantee can depart from the regulations by demonstrating to FTA that an alternative design or technology provides individuals with disabilities equivalent or greater access to a vehicle or facility. FTA anticipates that the topics of subsequent chapters will largely mirror the major provisions in the DOT ADA regulations, for example: General nondiscrimination requirements, facility construction and alteration, fixed route bus and rail service, ADA complementary paratransit (eligibility and service delivery), general public demand responsive service, and ferries and other modes.
When issued in its final form, the circular is intended to provide guidance specifically for recipients of FTA financial assistance that provide public transit. As such, requirements found in the DOT ADA regulations, for example, related to intercity rail (i.e., Amtrak), private motor coach service (e.g., Greyhound), taxi service, and airport transportation will not be covered in the circular.
Going forward, it is anticipated that the chapters will be issued in groups. All chapters will be announced in the
FTA seeks comments on the scope and content of the first chapter of the circular, “Vehicle Acquisition,” specifically as to whether there are areas that need more clarification or explanation or topics that were overlooked. The chapter includes a section on practices a transit provider can use to help ensure the vehicles it acquires are compliant and useable. FTA seeks comment on whether there are other practices that have proven effective that would be worth describing in the circular.
FTA also seeks suggestions on specific issues to cover in future chapters and which topics should be a priority to cover early on in the process of developing the ADA circular. For example, FTA seeks comments on which issues within the broad topic areas mentioned above (e.g., general nondiscrimination, facility construction and alterations, fixed route services, and ADA complementary paratransit) are most challenging to address by the industry. Further, FTA is interested in knowing in what areas guidance would be the most valuable to transportation providers.