QUESTION: I understand a revised accessibility rule for “transportation vehicles” takes effect next year. When? My transit agency serves a large metropolitan area, so how are the new guidelines likely to impact us financially? Adam, California

ANSWER: Your information is correct.

The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines were published in the Federal Register on Dec. 14, 2016, and go into effect on Jan. 13, 2017.

However, they won’t be enforced until the U.S. Department of Transportation adopts them. Given the upcoming changes at the White House, no one knows when that may be.

In the meantime, you can download the guidelines from the:

Note that this language pertains only to non-rail vehicles – buses, over-the-road buses (OTRBs), and vans – acquired or remanufactured by entities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Guidelines for transportation vehicles operated in fixed guideway systems (rapid rail, light rail, commuter rail, and intercity rail) will be updated separately.

Why Change Now?

The Access Board issued guidelines for transportation vehicles when the ADA became law in 1991. They applied to buses, vans, and fixed guideway systems and were amended in 1998 to include OTRBs.

Developments over the decades since then necessitated yet another revision. The guidelines were refreshed this time for two primary reasons: to incorporate new technologies, such as automated announcement systems and level boarding bus systems, and to ensure the U.S. DOT’s transportation vehicle guidelines remain consistent with its other regulations that have been issued since 1998. See, e.g., Americans with Disabilities Act and Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines), 36 CFR part 1191, apps. A – D.

Key Differences Compared to 1998 Guidelines
Most of the revisions restate requirements in plain terms that are easier to understand.

I suggest reviewing the excellent Major Issues and Summary of Comments and Responses sections.

In the meantime, the boldface headings below are from the Executive Summary (usually I’ve chosen portions, not the full text of the text changes).

  • New Organization and Format: The revised scoping and technical guidelines run from pages 90,600 through 90,629 in the Federal Register. Those 30 pages are organized into seven chapters: Application & Administration; Scoping Requirements; Building Blocks; Boarding and Alighting; Doorways, Passenger Access Routes, & Fare Collection Devices; Wheelchair Spaces and Securement Systems; and Communication Features. They’re also contained in a new appendix to 36 CFR Part 1192.
  • Consistent Application of Accessibility Requirements across Different Types of Non-Rail Vehicles. With some exceptions, the guidelines apply to all non-rail vehicles. The aim is to make requirements easier to understand and apply for regulated parties, such as public transit agencies, that operate multiple vehicle types.
  • New Requirement for Automated Announcement Systems on Large Fixed Route Buses Operated by Large Transit Entities. Large transit agencies must provide automated stop and route announcement systems on all large vehicles operating in fixed route bus service that stop at multiple designated stops. Automated announcement systems must have both audible and visible components.
  • Revised Requirements for Maximum Running Slope of Ramps. Vehicle and ramp designs now make deploying ramps with lesser slopes feasible. Accordingly, the final rule specifies a maximum running slope of 1:6 for ramps deployed to roads or curb-height bus stops, and 1:8 for ramps deployed to boarding platforms in level boarding bus systems.
  • New Accessibility Requirements for OTRBs. Over-the-road buses operating in fixed route service must post signs for accessible seating and doorways, have public address systems and stop request systems, and provide exterior destination or route signs on the front and boarding sides of vehicles (when exterior signage is provided). Buses and vans have had similar requirements since 1991.
  • Other Revisions to Reflect Changes in Technologies and Standards: The guidelines also reflect other changes, such as establishing accessibility requirements for level boarding bus systems and incorporating updated standards for wheelchair securement systems, which didn’t exist before.

As for your question regarding the guideline's monetary impact, see sidebar.

Good luck and Happy 2017 New Year!