Many people who rely on a wheelchair also rely on public transportation to get around. In order to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), public transportation systems need to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities and their assisted devices, such as motorized wheelchairs. There are some guidelines that those who use a motorized wheelchair should be aware of to avoid having issues on public transportation.
The wheelchair must be used in order to assist the mobility of the passenger when taking it on a bus. There must be three or more wheels, and the wheelchair can either be battery or manually operated. Dimensions of power wheelchairs can’t exceed 48 inches high and 30 inches wide. The reason there is a limit on the size is so that the power wheelchair doesn’t block the aisles of buses and doesn’t interfere with the safety of other passengers.
The total weight of the wheelchair shouldn’t exceed 600 pounds, but generally the transportation operator will need to accommodate the passenger if the lift on the bus can accommodate them. Since some wheelchairs do weigh more than 600 pounds, the operator of the bus is not required to transport the device and the passenger. For example, if the maximum load the lift can handle is 800 pounds, then even though the wheelchair may exceed that, the transportation operator still must transport the passenger as long as they and the wheelchair does not exceed 800 pounds. Lifts must accommodate both outboard and inboard facing electric wheelchairs. A lift that specifies that a user must face a certain direction is not compliant with the ADA regulations.
Transit operators must train their personnel to assist passengers who have disabilities and treat them with sensitivity. The personnel are responsible for making sure that transportation is non-discriminatory and safe. It is necessary that the bus is still operated safely, and transit personnel can recommend that a power wheelchair user transfer from the wheelchair to a seat on the bus, but the passenger may decline. It is likely safer to transport to a seat, and even though some chairs do have seatbelts, those are designed for operation on the wheelchair and not for protection in a bus accident. However, a transit official can require that a motorized wheelchair be secured in buses and they can decline service to a user that refuses to allow for the wheelchair to be secured. Power wheelchairs can be secured the same way manual wheelchairs are. Heavier wheelchairs should be secured with four rear tie downs, instead of two, and if possible attached to different locations on the chair.
In order to securely travel on buses while using a motorized wheelchair, the chair should be turned off when being transported on the lift. If the power is not turned off and it is inadvertently bumped, the chair could start moving and fall off the lift. Wheel locks should be used if the power wheelchair has them. Once the lift is level with the bus floor, the power can be turned back on and the gears re-engaged for the wheelchair to move. Once parked on the bus, the power to the wheelchair should be turned off again for safety purposes.
There are different rules and regulations for different transit authorities, so it’s important to consult with your local transit authority to make sure that your motorized wheelchair meets requirements. This will allow you to travel safely on your local buses.