The ADA and Transportation Providers

SUMMARY: Many aspects of transportation are covered by regulations based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This article gives an overview of the ADA requirements for transportation services such as public bus systems and private taxi companies.

For people with disabilities, the importance of accessible transportation cannot be overstated. Transportation is crucial for independent living and participation in community life. Many regular activities, such as commuting, shopping, going to the movies, and visiting a doctor, usually require transportation. This article answers common questions about transportation providers and accessibility.

What types of transportation are covered by the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to both public and private transportation services and organizations. The ADA requirements vary in some instances for public and private transportation providers. For public entities (state and local governments), the ADA applies to city bus systems, paratransit, regional rail, and more. For private organizations, the ADA has requirements for taxis, airport shuttles, motor coach buses, and more.

For public transportation providers, what are some of the obligations?

The regulations apply to more than just moving vehicles. They also apply to related areas, such as bus stops and transportation facilities. These areas must be accessible to people with disabilities. This allows people with disabilities to travel independently. Examples of these areas include:

  • Paths of travel to and within a station
  • Bus stops and shelters
  • Curb ramps, doors, elevators, and escalators
  • Fare collection areas, gates and turnstiles, grade crossings, and parking
  • Passenger drop-off areas, platform edges, and rescue-assistance areas
  • Restrooms

In addition, if there are public telephones and water fountains, they should be accessible. Emergency alarms should also be accessible.

Buses and commuter rail cars also have accessibility requirements. A few of these include:

  • Providing equipment, such as lifts and ramps, that enable people using mobility devices to board and exit a vehicle.
  • Within public buses, providing securement devices (straps for securing wheelchairs).
  • Within public buses, marking at least one set of forward-facing seats as priority seating (for people with disabilities).
  • Announcing stops at all transfer points, major intersections, destination points, and other points so people with visual impairments understand their location. Bus operators must also announce stops that someone with a disability has requested.

All these accessible features must be maintained in good working order and be promptly repaired when they are not working.

For public transportation providers, are there other types of accessibility requirements?

Several other operational requirements are in place to ensure that people with disabilities have access to public transportation. They include:

  • Making information about their services (i.e. bus routes and schedules) available to people with different types of disabilities. This can include providing information in large-print, Braille, and electronic formats.
  • Allowing people with disabilities the time they need to safely board and exit vehicles.
  • Allowing service animals to accompany people with disabilities in vehicles and facilities. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) ADA regulations define a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. This service animal does not need to be licensed or certified by a state or local government.
  • Training employees to operate vehicles and equipment safely—and to properly assist individuals with disabilities. Also, training employees to be respectful and courteous to people with disabilities. Employees should also be trained to recognize that individuals with disabilities have different abilities and needs requiring different types of assistance.

What is paratransit service? Is it the same as a city bus?

Even when buses are fully accessible, some people with disabilities, for a variety of reasons, are unable to use them. For these individuals, paratransit can be an essential alternative.

The ADA requires that when public transportation is provided (i.e. a city bus system), a complementary paratransit service must also be provided for people who cannot use the bus system due to disability. Transportation providers can establish a policy to provide door-to-door service or curb-to-curb service. For door-to-door service, a driver offers assistance from the customer’s door to the vehicle and from the vehicle to the door at the destination. For curb-to-curb service, the customer is assisted with entering and exiting the vehicle at the curb. Paratransit vehicles do not follow a fixed route like city buses do. Paratransit trips require that people with disabilities use a reservation system to book their trips in advance with the transportation provider.

For private transportation providers, what are some of the obligations?

Private entities that provide transportation services to the public are required to be accessible to people with disabilities. Private providers covered by the ADA include, but are not limited to, airport shuttles, hotel shuttles, private buses and Over the Road Bus (OTRB) companies. (OTRB companies typically run motor-coach buses that service commuter routes or take passengers on special trips.)

Private transportation providers that use inaccessible vehicles must provide an equivalent service. An example of an equivalent service would be an accessible vehicle that services the same traveling points for the same cost within the same timeframe as the inaccessible vehicle.

What about taxis? How does the ADA apply to them?

Under the ADA, private entities that provide taxi service are not required to purchase or lease accessible automobiles. And, taxi providers are not required to purchase vehicles other than automobiles. So, if a taxi provider has only automobiles in their fleet, then although drivers must assist a person with a disability with entering and exiting the vehicle—and with stowing any mobility-related equipment—if a person with a disability cannot access the taxi, the taxi provider is not breaking the law.

However, if a taxi company operates a vehicle other than a “car,” such as a van or bus, then this vehicle must be accessible unless the taxi company has another way to provide equivalent accessible service to riders with disabilities. For example, the taxi company could provide equivalent service for riders with disabilities who might need a ramp or lift to use the taxi service.

In terms of service, private entities providing taxi service cannot discriminate against people with disabilities by actions including, but not limited to, these:

  • Refusing to provide service to people with disabilities who can use taxi vehicles
  • Refusing to provide service to people using service animals
  • Refusing to assist with the stowing of mobility devices
  • Charging higher fares or fees for assisting riders with disabilities than are charged to other riders
  • Charging higher fares or fees for helping with disability-related equipment

More about the ADA and Transportation Providers

Accessible transportation for people with disabilities is essential. Because there are so many different types of transportation—and so many rules about how to make them ADA-compliant—we get a lot of questions about transportation at the Northeast ADA Center. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, in addition to searching on our website or calling us to ask questions directly, we recommend these resources:


Would you like more information about the services we provide? Ask our technical assistance specialists.

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