Learning to use public transportation


  Learning to use public transportation

Public transportation is a great way to get around. If you are trying to save money on gas, it can also be a cost-effective form of transit. Whether you want to take the bus or train for your daily commute, or you're traveling on an airplane for pleasure, public transit has many benefits, and will help make your life more sustainable.

Most transit authority websites offer information about purchasing passes or tickets online. Most U.S. cities and metropolitan areas have public transportation options, with buses being the most common form of transit service. But if you live in a small town, even a train system might be available and accessible for you to use. Even if the system is not specifically designed for people with disabilities, it is usually possible to get around, because many buses are equipped with ramps instead of stairs. The accessible bus will pick up passengers who use wheelchairs or scooters at all regular bus stops within an area where there is only one accessible bus route. Many cities have specialized transit systems that are designed specifically for people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices (see below).

In some cities, there is a paratransit system -- also called special transportation -- for people who cannot use regular transit. You must be certified to use this service in most cities, and you will need to apply with the appropriate authority (often called a Regional Transit or Metro Authority). Many paratransit systems are designed specifically for people who use wheelchairs, scooters, walkers or other mobility devices and cannot ride on regular transit buses. Depending on the city you live in, your paratransit service may only be available on certain days or hours of the day.

For more information about public transportation options in your area, contact your local transit authority or visit its website. The following website also provides a list of links to national and international transit authorities:

In the U.S., public transportation systems are required by law to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). All buses, trains and subways must be wheelchair accessible. Each transit agency has to provide documentation of these vehicles in an annual report that is available on its website. You can also contact your local transit authority for information about whether it runs a paratransit system, and about your accessibility options.

Federal laws that cover public transportation include the ADA and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The ADA and ACAA both require transit systems to provide disability access on buses, trains and subways. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for enforcing these laws, but it does not have enforcement authority over private businesses (such as airports or railways).

The ADA entitles individuals with disabilities to access public transit vehicles. This means that you are entitled to sit in any seat you wish, use the same accessible route as other passengers do, or use the same type of service for the whole trip. The actual procedures that are used at bus stops are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), which allows more flexibility than the formal rules in the ADA. The ADAAG also allows wheelchair users to stand, or walk through a doorway and onto the bus, rather than using a ramp.

ACAA rules apply to all areas of airport terminals, including baggage claim areas, ticket counters and passenger waiting areas. ACAA requirements include that entrances are accessible and that computers, telephones and other public services are provided through accessible routes. ACAA also requires airports to provide curb-side loading for public transportation vehicles. This means that you can load your luggage by pulling it onto the bus or train just outside the terminal building.

Airports are often large and complex facilities, with several different buildings that serve different purposes. Airports may have separate transit systems for people traveling through the airport terminal building and for people who travel to or from other areas, such as commercial or private aircraft. Airport transit policies vary depending on the size of the airport and its location.

Many public transportation agencies have a policy against transporting pets in vehicles used to transport people with disabilities. However, if you need to travel with your service animal, you might be able to work out an arrangement with your transit authority. Your ability to bring a pet into a public place depends on the nature of your disability and what sort of tasks the animal performs for you.

The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that performs tasks for the rider. For example, your dog may pull or push you in a wheelchair, fetch things for you, or provide assistance in other ways. Any dog that provides assistance to people with disabilities falls into this category, but dogs whose primary function is to provide emotional support or companionship are not considered service animals. If you need to travel with your pet service animal on public transportation (such as the bus or train), ask the driver if he or she is willing to accommodate your needs. If the answer is no, ask if there is any alternative way for you to get to and from your destination.

To check the legitimacy of your service animal, a business can ask only two questions:

Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?

What tasks does it perform for you?

It is not legal to ask about your disability, require medical documentation, require special identification for your animal or charge you extra for bringing your service animal into a business. Businesses are also not allowed to restrict access based on breed.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires airlines to accommodate the service animals of passengers with disabilities. For example, if you need to fly with your service animal, and the airline requires it to travel in the cargo hold, you can request a waiver to allow your animal on board. Airlines are required to accommodate people with disabilities who need service animals, but they may require documentation that the animal has been trained.

The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require public facilities -- such as restaurants or stores -- to allow pets. However, if a business violates this rule, the Department of Justice may use fines or other legal enforcement mechanisms against them (see Title III).


People with disabilities do not have to live in the shadows of society. They are entitled to a full and active life. However, these rights are not absolute, and they can be restricted if necessary in order to protect the public from harm or if there is an overriding public safety concern. The laws that are available can help you protect your rights and make your disability a non-issue for others while also providing access for you.

If you have any questions about how the laws that govern public accommodation apply to you, contact your local ADA Center or legal services provider.

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