Many wheelchair users today rely on public transportation to get around. As required by the Department of Transportation regulations that enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), public transit systems must provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities and their assistive mobility devices. An electric wheelchair is considered an assistive device protected by the ADA. There are general guidelines for accessible transportation, however, that electric wheelchair users should be aware of.
When taking an electric wheelchair on a public bus, van or train, it must be used to assist the mobility of a disabled passenger. The wheelchair must have three or more wheels and be manual or battery-operated. The dimensions of the motorized wheelchair cannot exceed 30 inches wide by 48 inches high. These policies ensure that a power wheelchair does not block the aisle of a bus, van or train or interfere with the safety of other passengers
In general, when riding mass transit, the total weight of the motorized wheelchair and the user cannot exceed 600 pounds. Transportation operators, however, must transport a wheelchair and the occupant of the chair if the vehicle and the vehicle’s lift can physically accommodate them. Some electric wheelchairs may weigh more than 600 pounds. If the wheelchair lift on the bus or van has a maximum load of 600 pounds, the operator of the mass transit vehicle is not required to transport the passenger and the mobility device. Yet, if the lift has a maximum load of 800 pounds, the transit operator is required to transport the passenger and their power chair, providing the combination weight does not exceed 800 pounds.
DOT regulations specify that a vehicle lift on a public transit vehicle must permit both inboard and outboard facing electric wheelchair users. A vehicle lift that specifies that a wheelchair user faces a certain direction is not compliant with DOT ADA regulations.
Transit personnel are responsible for ensuring safe and nondiscriminatory transportation. Regulations state that all transit operators must train their personnel to assist passengers with disabilities and treat them with sensitivity. Personnel are also required to safely operate transit vehicles and equipment. Transit personnel may recommend that a power wheelchair user transfers from his or her wheelchair to a vehicle seat, but the passenger may decline. A transit authority may require that a motorized wheelchair be secured in buses and vans, and personnel may decline transit service to an electric wheelchair user who refuses to allow his or her wheelchair to be secured.
Different transit authorities may have slightly different rules and regulations. It’s important to consult with your local transit authority to ensure your electric or manual wheelchair meets requirements for accessible transportation.