OPA: Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Other Modes of Transportation

P&A Publications

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"Planes, Trains, Automobiles and other modes of transportation"
a P&A Self-Help Publication

Air Travel
Trains and Subways
Buses and Paratransit Service
Cruise Ships and Tour Companies
Car Sales and Rental Establishments
What's Left?

AIR TRAVEL
The Air Carriers Access Act, passed in 1986, protects people with disabilities from discrimination by airlines. The regulations implementing the Act were promulgated by the U.S. Department of Transportation and went into effect in 1990. The regulations cover the responsibilities of the traveler, the carriers (i.e., the airlines), the airport operators, and contractors who collectively make up the air travel system.

HOW DOES THE ACT AFFECT THE ACCESSIBILITY OF AIRPLANES?
Any aircraft purchased after April 5, 1990 must meet minimum standards for accessibility. The same requirement applies to aircraft delivered after April 5, 1992. Older aircraft are required to meet minimal standards when cabin interiors, lavatories, or seats are replaced.

WHAT ARE THE MINIMAL ACCESS STANDARDS THAT MUST BE MET?
Airplanes with over thirty seats must have movable armrests on at least half of the aisle seats. In addition, aircraft with over one hundred seats shall have sufficient space in the cabin for priority storage of at least one folding wheelchair.

Aircraft with more than one aisle must have an accessible bathroom. Aircraft with an accessible bathroom and more than sixty seats must provide an on-board wheelchair. Aircraft with inaccessible bathrooms must provide an on-board device to transport individuals with disabilities to that bathroom.

MAY AN AIRLINE EVER DENY ME MY RIGHT TO TRAVEL?
An individual with a disability has the same right to travel by air as any other passenger. The only reason an airline can refuse to board you is if you are a health or safety threat. If you are refused air travel you must be informed of the reason in writing within ten days. (See page 5 about filing a complaint).

CAN AN AIRLINE REQUIRE ADVANCE NOTICE?
Airlines can require advance notice of up to forty eight hours only if:

  • you use an electric wheelchair and the plane has fewer than sixty seats
  • the airline must provide for packaging hazardous battery materials
  • arrangements must be made for oxygen, an incubator or respirator, or travel by stretcher
  • more than ten individuals with disabilities are traveling in a group (e.g., wheelchair sports team)

If advance notice is not given for some reason, a good faith effort to accommodate you must still be made by the airlines.

CAN AIRLINES REQUIRE PASSENGERS TO TRAVEL WITH AN ATTENDANT?\
The simple answer is no. If an airline does insist on an attendant traveling with you they cannot require you to pay for the attendant's seat.

CAN I BE RESTRICTED IN THE LOCATION OF MY SEAT?
Again the simple answer is no. There may however be FAA safety regulations (i.e., rules that prohibit people with disabilities from sitting in exit rows) which the airlines must follow. If a service animal cannot be accommodated at a given seat, the airline must relocate the individual to a suitable seat which can accommodate the animal.

WHAT SUPPORT SERVICES ARE AIRLINES REQUIRED TO PROVIDE?
Assistance shall be provided in entering and exiting the plane, making flight connections, and transporting between gates. Hand carrying a person onto a small plane (i.e., fewer than thirty seats) which does not have a lift or boarding chair is not required. Assistance with using the bathroom, eating or performing personal assistance services is also not required.

WHAT HAPPENS IF ANY EQUIPMENT I HAVE IS DAMAGED?
Any device you bring with you must be returned in the condition it was received by the airline. Airlines cannot require you to sign a waiver of this responsibility.

WHAT IF I HAVE A VISUAL OR HEARING DISABILITY?
Information provided to the general public must be made available to individuals with visual disabilities in a manner which is accessible to them (e.g., large print, tape, Braille). TTY service (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf) must be available in the airport and safety instructions on the plane must be provided by means of signed or captioned video presentations.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW IF I AM PLANNING TO FLY?
No passenger can be charged extra (referred to as surcharges) for any services provided, medical certificates can be required only in limited situations, and service animals must be allowed on all flights. In addition, if your wheelchair is stored in the baggage compartment it must be brought up to you as close as possible to the door of the airplane. Finally, airlines are not permitted to limit the number of individuals with disabilities on a particular flight.

WHAT IF I HAVE A PROBLEM AND WANT TO FILE A COMPLAINT?
Four mechanisms are available should you want to file a complaint against an airline. Your first step should be to file a complaint with the Complaint Resolution Officer (CRO), which each airline is required to have at each airport it serves. If there are legitimate safety reasons, a decision the CRO makes based on your complaint can be overruled by the pilot-in-command. (Note: the airline must have a copy of the Air Carriers Act regulations at each airport it serves, and you have a right to access these regulations at any time.)

If a satisfactory resolution to your complaint is not reached, you shall be informed in writing of the facts relating to the complaint and the basis of the decision. You should also be notified of your right to pursue a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Written complaints may also be filed directly with the airline. Airlines have a responsibility to respond to your complaint within thirty days, as long as you file your complaint within forty five days of the incident. Written complaints should include all information related to the alleged discrimination, and should note whether a CRO was contacted. Include the name of the CRO, the date of contact with the CRO, and any written response you might have received from the CRO.

Complaints may also be filed directly with the U.S. Department of Transportation. You may file either an informal complaint and a formal complaint with D.O.T.

If you file an informal complaint you must write a letter and explain the incident, including all relevant details, as you did with your written complaint to the airline. Informal complaints should be filed with the:

Department of Transportation
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
400 Seventh Street SW, Rm. 10405
Washington, DC 20590
(202) 366-5957 - Voice - (202) 755-7687 - (TTY)

If you want to file a formal complaint you must follow specified rules of practice. Formal complaints are more like civil lawsuits and should be filed with the Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings at D.O.T. If a finding is made in your favor, and the airline refuses to comply, the case will go to an administrative law judge.

Whether the complaint is made informally or formally the disposition may include a solution to the individual problem you presented as well as a change in airline policy. Monetary damages to the complainant are not allowed.

A private law suit is also an option under the Air Carriers Access Act.

TRAINS AND SUBWAYS
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disability by employers of fifteen or more employees, state and local government, and private businesses which serve the public. Sections of the ADA also cover public and private transportation services (Title II, Part B covers transportation services provided by public entities, and Title III covers private transportation providers), and require a certain degree of access to subway systems, commuter rail and Amtrak.

WHAT ARE THE ACCESS REQUIREMENTS FOR PUBLICLY RUN TRAINS AND SUBWAYS?
All new vehicles ordered after August 25, 1990 must be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. One car per train or subway was required to be accessible by July 26, 1995.

WHAT ABOUT USED OR REMANUFACTURED VEHICLES?
If a public authority purchases used cars a "good faith effort" must be made to obtain accessible vehicles. If a vehicle is remanufactured to extend its life for five or more years, or a remanufactured vehicle is purchased, it must be accessible "to the maximum extent feasible".

DO PRIVATE ENTITIES HAVE TO PROVIDE ACCESS?
Private entities that provide transportation services must purchase new cars which are accessible. In addition, if a remanufactured vehicle is purchased, or if a car is remanufactured to extend its life ten or more years, it must be accessible to the maximum extent feasible.

DO RAIL STATIONS HAVE TO BE ACCESSIBLE?
Transit authorities had to identify "key" rail stations and make them accessible by July 26, 1993. There are a number of situations however where extensions may be granted, in some cases until 2010. New transportation facilities must be fully accessible, and altered facilities must meet certain minimum access standards.

HOW DO I COMPLAIN ABOUT VIOLATIONS OF THE ADA'S TRANSPORTATION REQUIREMENTS?

Complaints may be filed with:
Federal Transit Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20590
(202) 366-2285 (Voice) - (202) 366-0153 (TTY)

BUSES AND PARATRANSIT SERVICE
In addition to trains and subways, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination by other forms of public and private transportation services, including fixed route (regular bus) service. Where fixed route service is provided, a paratransit system (curb-to-curb van, bus or cab) must also be in place.

WHAT IS REQUIRED OF FIXED ROUTE SERVICE?
Under the ADA, all buses purchased after August, 1990 must be accessible to people with disabilities. Under a separate Connecticut law, all fixed route buses had to be accessible by September 30, 1996. In addition:

  • drivers must announce stops (this is a very big issue for people who are visually impaired - the American Council of the Blind reports drivers calling out stops at major intersection less than 30% of the time) and allow passengers with disabilities enough time to get on and off the bus
  • methods must be provided that permit people with visual disabilities to identify correct buses at stops served by buses from more than one route
  • information about bus service and bus schedules must be available in accessible formats, and transit facilities must be accessible to people with mobility impairments
  • training must be provided to bus operators regarding the functioning of lift equipment, as well as the need to treat people with courtesy and respect.

HOW DO PARATRANSIT SERVICES OPERATE?
Paratransit services are required only in those areas where a fixed route bus system is operational. The service must be available for an area that covers 3/4 of a mile on either side of the bus route. Effective January 26, 1997, the service had to meet the following six criteria:

  • the service must cover the same geographic area as the bus service
  • individuals should be able to call up to 24 hours ahead of time for service the next day (reservations may also be made months in advance, for example, for medical appointments)
  • fares may not exceed twice the cost of fixed route fares and attendants may ride for free
  • there can be no restrictions with regard to trip purpose
  • the hours and days of services must be the same as for fixed route
  • there can be no waiting lists and no limits on the number of trips

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR PARATRANSIT SERVICE?
Generally speaking, only those individuals who, because of their disabilities cannot use a fixed route, are eligible to use paratransit service. There are three categories of eligibility:

  1. Any individual who cannot use an accessible route system without the assistance of another individual because of a physical or mental disability
  2. Individuals who require a boarding device, such as a lift, to use the fixed route service, but are not near a bus route that includes accessible vehicles
  3. Any individual who has a specific impairment related condition which prevents them from traveling to a boarding location (lack of curb cuts and weather conditions do not in and of themselves constitute eligibility, but when related to a specific personís disability may make the person eligible).

Exceptions exist for unique circumstances. Procedures must be in place within local transit authorities to determine eligibility for paratransit service. Eligibility for paratransit services constitutes the single largest category of complaints filed with the federal transit administrationís Office of Civil Rights.

CAN MY ELIGIBILITY FOR PARATRANSIT SERVICE BE TERMINATED?
Ridership rights may be suspended if there is a demonstrated pattern of missed or no show appointments. Ridership can also be suspended for unruly behavior which threatens the safety of other passengers.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PARATRANSIT SERVICE?
Yes. Persons with disabilities must be included in all phases of planning. Drafts of transit plans must be available in accessible formats, and there must be at least one public hearing on the plan.

In addition, accessibility features on vehicles must be kept in good working order. Drivers must know how to operate equipment, and must treat passengers in a courteous and respectful way.

Due process protections exist to appeal denial of eligibility, suspensions or any other actions which affect a persons right to service. Contact your local transit authority to learn of their appeal procedures.

HOW ARE THE TRANSPORTATION REQUIREMENTS ENFORCED?
Violations of the fixed route or paratransit requirements are enforced through administrative complaints to the Federal Transit Administration (see address and phone numbers listed earlier), or by a civil lawsuit.

IS PRIVATE BUS SERVICE COVERED UNDER THE ADA?
Private bus service between cities, such as service provided by Greyhound, is covered by the ADA. Because a required study by the federal Office of Technology Assistance has not yet been completed - it was due July 26, 1993 - a fixed date for providing accessible bus service has not been established. Private bus companies must still provide assistance in boarding and disembarking as well as the storage of mobility aides and devices. Advance notice of forty eight hours may be required if assistance is needed, but reasonable efforts to provide such assistance must be made to accommodate the disabled individual.

ARE ENTITIES NOT PRIMARILY ENGAGED IN THE TRANSPORTATION BUSINESS
COVERED UNDER THE ADA?

Hotel shuttle services, amusement park transportation, shopping center shuttle services, private university transportation systems, and car rental shuttles are all covered under the ADA. Whatever the form of the transportation provided, accessible service must be made available in some fashion.

CRUISE SHIPS & TOUR COMPANIES

Offices of travel agents, tour booking agents and cruise ship lines are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They must meet the same access standards that apply to other places of public accommodation for new construction, alterations, and existing buildings.

HOW ACCESSIBLE DO CRUISE SHIPS HAVE TO BE?
Places of public accommodation located on cruise ships must remove architectural barriers whenever such removal is readily achievable (i.e., remove barriers when such removal can be accomplished easily and without much difficulty or expense); this is the same standard that applies whether the business in on land or on a cruise ship. New ships are not required to comply with new construction accessibility standards since such standards for cruise ships have not yet been developed. In general, cruise ships are still subject to the readily achievable requirements of the ADA, and programmatic barriers must be eliminated and travelers with disabilities cannot be treated differently from passengers who are not disabled.

CAR SALES AND RENTAL ESTABLISHMENTS
Automobile sales and rental establishments are places of public accommodations and therefore are covered under the ADA. The new construction, alteration, and existing building standards therefore apply to such businesses.

DO AUTOMOBILE SALES ESTABLISHMENTS HAVE TO PROVIDE HAND CONTROLS TO ENABLE A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY TO TEST DRIVE A CAR?
For many car dealers, installation of hand controls will be readily achievable. Dealers may request reasonable advance notice from customers who need hand controls to ensure that a properly equipped vehicle will be available.

DO AUTOMOBILE RENTAL ESTABLISHMENTS HAVE TO PROVIDE HAND CONTROLS SO THAT A CUSTOMER WHO NEEDS THEM CAN RENT A CAR?
Here, too, the provision of hand controls would be readily achievable for most car rental establishments. Reasonable advance notice may also be required.

ARE AUTO RENTAL ESTABLISHMENTS REQUIRED TO ACCEPT THE CREDIT CARD OF A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY WHO IS NOT THE DRIVER OF A VEHICLE?
Yes. This would be a reasonable modification of normal business practice that would be necessary to avoid discrimination against a person with a disability who wants to rent a car. The driver, obviously, must meet all the requirements for driving a car, such as a current, valid driverís license.

WHATíS LEFT?
There are a number of other rights established under the ADA:

  • public and private university bus systems are covered under the ADA, but have slightly different requirements for providing accessible service
  • automobile taxis are not required to be accessible, but taxi buses or taxi vans which seat more than eight people must be accessible, unless equivalent service is available; discrimination against any person who can use an inaccessible vehicle is prohibited
  • fixed route airport transportation must be accessible, but paratransit service is not required; demand-responsive airport systems must be accessible, unless equivalent service is provided
  • public entity van pools must purchase accessible vehicles, unless equivalent service is provided; private entity van pools must comply with the employment mandates of the ADA
  • bus stops, bus shelters, and bus stop signage, when new or replaced, must be accessible to both physically disabled and visually impaired individuals
  • transportation services provided to students of public schools are not covered under the ADA, but would fall under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

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Content Last Modified on 4/8/2011 12:42:58 PM