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B-1 The source of the following text is: Transportation for Individuals with Disabilities; Reasonable Modification of Policies and Practices, 80 Fed. Reg. 13253â13260 (Mar. 13, 2015) (to be codified at 49 C.F.R. pts. 27, 37.) Available: http://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2015/03/13/2015-05646/transportation- for-individuals-with-disabilities-reasonable-modification-of-policies-and-practices [accessed June 15, 2018] Supplementary Information This final rule concerning reasonable modification of transportation provider policies and practices is based on a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) issued February 27, 2006 (71 FR 9761). The NPRM also concerned several other subjects, most notably nondiscrimi- natory access to new and altered rail station platforms. The Department issued a final rule on these other subjects on September 19, 2011 (76 FR 57924). Executive Summary I. Purpose of the Regulatory Action This final rule is needed to clarify that public transportation entities are required to make reasonable modifications/accommodations to their policies, practices, and procedures to ensure program accessibility. While this requirement is not a new obligation for public transporta- tion entities receiving federal financial assistance (see section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act), including the National Passenger Railroad Corporation (Amtrak), courts have identified an unintended gap in our Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. This final rule will fill in the gap. The real-world effect will be that the nature of an individualâs disability cannot preclude a public transportation entity from providing full access to the entityâs service unless some exception applies. For example, an individual using a wheelchair who needs to access the bus will be able to board the bus even though sidewalk construction or snow prevents the individual from boarding the bus from the bus stop; the operator of the bus will need to slightly A P P E N D I X B Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice on the DOT Final Rule on Transportation for Individuals with Disabilities; Reasonable Modification of Policies and Practices
B-2 Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-3 adjust the boarding location so that the individual using a wheelchair may board from an acces- sible location. Reasonable modification/accommodation requirements are a fundamental tenet of dis- ability nondiscrimination lawâfor example, they are an existing requirement for recipients of federal assistance and are contained in the U.S. DOJ ADA rules for public and private entities, the U.S. DOT ADA rules for passenger vessels, and DOT rules under the Air Carrier Access Act. In addition, section 504 has long been interpreted by the courts to require recipients of federal financial assistanceâvirtually all public transportation entities subject to this final ruleâto provide reasonable accommodations by making changes to policies, practices, and procedures if needed by an individual with a disability to enable him or her to participate in the recipientâs program or activity, unless providing such accommodations are an undue financial and administrative burden or constitute a fundamental alteration of the program or activity. Among the Departmentâs legal authorities to issue this rulemaking are section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 794), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101-12213. II. Summary of the Major Provisions of the Regulatory Action Public entities providing designated public transportation (e.g., fixed route, demand respon- sive, and ADA complementary paratransit) service will need to make reasonable modifications/ accommodations to policies and practices to ensure program accessibility subject to several exceptions. These exceptions include when the modification/accommodation would cause a direct threat to the health or safety of others, would result in a fundamental alteration of the service, would not actually be necessary in order for the individual with a disability to access the entityâs service, or (for recipients of federal financial assistance) would result in an undue financial and administrative burden. Appendix E of this final rule provides specific examples of requested modifications that public transportation entities typically would not be required to grant for one or more reasons. Public entities providing designated public transportation service will need to implement their own processes for making decisions and providing reasonable modifications under the ADA to their policies and practices. In many instances, entities already have compliant processes in place. This final rule does not prescribe the exact processes entities must adopt or require DOT approval of the processes. However, DOT reserves the right to review an entityâs process as part of its normal oversight. See 49 C.F.R. 37.169. III. Costs and Benefits The Department estimates that the costs associated with this final rule will be minimal for two reasons. First, modifications to policies, practices, and procedures, if needed by an indi- vidual with a disability to enable him or her to participate in a program or activity, are [Start Printed Page 13254] already required by other federal law that applies to recipients of federal financial assistance. Since virtually every entity subject to this final rule receives federal finan- cial assistance, each entity should already be modifying its policies, practices, and procedures when necessary. Second, the reasonable modification/accommodation requirements contained in this final rule are not very different from the origin-to-destination requirement already applicable to complementary paratransit service, as required by current DOT regulations at 49 C.F.R. 37.129(a) and as described in its implementing guidance. The Reasonable Modification NPRM Through amendments to the Departmentâs ADA regulations at 49 C.F.R. 37.5 and 37.169, the NPRM proposed that transportation entities, including, but not limited to, public transportation
Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-3 entities required to provide complementary paratransit service, must make reasonable modifica- tions to their policies and practices to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability and ensure program accessibility. Making reasonable modifications to policies and practices is a funda- mental tenet of disability nondiscrimination law, reflected in a number of DOT (e.g., 49 C.F.R. 27.11(c)(3), 14 C.F.R. 382.7(c)) and DOJ (e.g., 28 C.F.R. 35.130(b)(7)) regulations. Moreover, since at least 1979, section 504 has been interpreted to require recipients of federal financial assistance to provide reasonable accommodations to program beneficiaries. See, e.g., Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287 (1985); Southeastern Community College v. Davis, 442 U.S. 397 (1979). In accordance with these decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court (e.g., Choate and Davis), the obligation to modify policies, practices, and procedures is a longstanding obligation under sec- tion 504, and the U.S. Department of Justice, which has coordination authority for section 504 pursuant to Executive Order 12250, is in agreement with this interpretation. However, as the NPRM explained, DOTâs ADA regulations do not include language specifi- cally requiring regulated parties to make reasonable modifications to policies and practices. The Department, when drafting 49 C.F.R. Part 37, intended that Â§ 37.21(c) would incorporate the DOJ provisions on this subject, by saying the following: Entities to which this part applies also may be subject to ADA regulations of the Depart- ment of Justice (28 C.F.R. Parts 35 or 36, as applicable). The provisions of this part shall be interpreted in a manner that will make them consistent with applicable Department of Justice regulations. Under this language, provisions of the DOJ regulations concerning reasonable modifications of policies and practices applicable to public entities, such as 28 C.F.R. 35.130(b)(7), could apply to public entities regulated by DOT, while provisions of DOJ regulations on this subject applicable to private entities (e.g., 28 C.F.R. 36.302) could apply to private entities regulated by DOT. A 1997 court decision appeared to share the Departmentâs intention regarding the relationship between DOT and DOJ requirements (Burkhart v. Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority, 112 F.3d 1207 (D.C. Cir. 1997)). However, more recent cases that addressed the issue directly held that, in the absence of a DOT regulation explicitly requiring transportation entities to make reasonable modifications, transportation entities were not obligated to make such modifications under the ADA. The lead- ing case on this issue was Melton v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), 391 F.3d 669 (5th Cir. 2004); cert. denied 125 S. Ct. 2273 (2005). In this case, the court upheld DARTâs refusal to pick up a paratransit passenger with a disability in a public alley behind his house, rather than in front of his house (where a steep slope allegedly precluded access by the passenger to DART vehicles). The DART argued that paratransit operations are not covered by DOJ regulations. âInstead,â as the court summarized DARTâs argument, âparatransit services are subject only to Department of Transportation regulations found in 49 C.F.R. Part 37. The Department of Transportation regulations contain no analogous provision requiring reasonable modification to be made to paratransit services to avoid discrimination.â 391 F.3d at 673. The court essentially adopted DARTâs argument, noting that the permissive language of Â§ 37.21(c) (âmay be subjectâ) did not impose coverage under provisions of DOJ regulations which, by their own terms, provided that public transportation programs were ânot subject to the requirements of [28 C.F.R. Part 35].â See 391 F.3d at 675. âIt is undisputed,â the court concluded that the Secretary of Transportation has been directed by statute to issue regulations relating specifically to paratransit transportation. Furthermore, even if the Secretary only has the authority to promulgate regulations relating directly to transportation, the reasonable modifi- cation requested by the Meltons relates specifically to the operation of DARTâs service and is, therefore, exempt from the [DOJ] regulations in 28 C.F.R. Part 35.
B-4 Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-5 Id. Two other cases, Boose v. Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon, 587 F.3d 997 (9th Cir. 2009) and Abrahams v. MTA Long Island Bus, 644 F.3d 110 (2d Cir. 2011), subsequently agreed with Melton. Because the Department believed that, as in all other areas of disability nondiscrimination law, making reasonable modifications to policies and practices is a crucial element of non- discriminatory and accessible service to people with disabilities, we proposed to fill the gap the courts had identified in our regulations. Consequently, the 2006 NPRM proposed amending the DOT rules to require that transportation entities, both fixed route and paratransit, make reasonable modifications in the provisions of their services when doing so is necessary to avoid discrimination or to provide program accessibility to services. In Â§ 37.5, the general nondiscrimination section of the ADA rule, the Department proposed to add a paragraph requiring all public entities providing designated public transportation to make reasonable modifications to policies and practices where needed to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability or to provide program accessibility to services. The language was based on DOJâs requirements and, like the DOJ regulation, would not require a modification if doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the entityâs service. The NPRM also proposed to place parallel language in a revised Â§ 37.169, replacing an obso- lete provision related to over-the-road buses. Under the proposal, in order to deny a request for a modification, the head of a public entity providing designated public transportation ser- vices would have had to make a written determination that a needed reasonable modification created a fundamental alteration or undue burden. The entity would not have been required to seek DOT approval for the determination, but DOT could review the entityâs action (e.g., in the context of a complaint investigation or compliance review) as part of a determination about whether the entity had discriminated against persons with disabilities. In the case where the entity determined that a requested modification created a fundamental alteration or undue burden, the entity would be obligated to seek an alternative solution that would not create such an undue burden or fundamental alteration. The ADA and part 37 contain numerous provisions requiring transportation entities to ensure that persons with disabilities can access and [Start Printed Page 13255] use transporta- tion services on a nondiscriminatory basis. Some of these provisions relate to the acquisition of vehicles or the construction or alteration of transportation facilities. Others concern the provi- sion of service by public and private entities, in modes ranging from public demand-responsive service for the general public to private over-the-road buses. Still others concern the provision of complementary paratransit service. In all of these cases, public transportation entities are likely to put policies and procedures in place to carry out applicable requirements. In order to achieve the objectives of the underly- ing requirements in certain individual cases, entities may need to depart from these otherwise acceptable policies. This final rule concerns the scope of situations in which such departuresâ i.e., reasonable modificationsâare essential. The underlying provisions of the rule describe the âbottom lineâ of what transportation entities must achieve. This reasonable modification rule describes how transportation entities get to that âbottom lineâ in individual situations where entitiesâ normal procedures do not achieve the intended result. As comments to the NPRM made clear, an important concern of transportation entities is that the DOT final rule makes it possible to understand clearly what modifications are expected; in other words, which requested modifications would be âreasonableâ and which would not. For example, in the fixed route context, we believe that stopping a bus a short distance from a bus stop sign to allow a wheelchair user to avoid an obstacle to boarding using a lift (e.g., a utility repair, a snowdrift) would generally be reasonable. Establishing a âflag stopâ policy that
Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-5 allowed a passenger to board a bus anywhere, without regard to bus stop locations, would not. In the complementary paratransit context, the Department would expect, in many circumstances, that drivers would provide assistance outside a vehicle where needed to overcome an obstacle, but drivers would not have to provide personal services that extend beyond the doorway into a building to assist a passenger. Appendix E to this final rule addresses issues of this kind in greater detail. In addition to the âmodification of policiesâ language from the DOJ ADA rules, there are other features of those rules that are not presently incorporated in the DOT ADA rules (e.g., pertaining to auxiliary aids and services). The NPRM sought comment on whether it would be useful to incorporate any additional provisions from the DOJ rules into Part 37. Comments to the NPRM The Department received over 300 comments on the reasonable modification provisions of the NPRM. These comments were received during the original comment period, a public meet- ing held in August 2010, and a reopened comment period at the time of that meeting. The com- ments were polarized, with almost all disability community commenters favoring the proposal and almost all transit industry commenters opposing it. The major themes in transit industry comments opposing the proposal were the following. Many transit industry commenters opposed the application of the concept of reasonable modi- fication to transportation, and a few commenters argued that it was not the job of transit enti- ties to surmount barriers existing in communities. Many transit commenters said that the rule would force them to make too many individual, case-by-case decisions, making program admin- istration burdensome, leading to pressure to take unreasonable actions, creating the poten- tial for litigation, and making service slower and less reliable. Some of these commenters also objected to the proposal that the head of an entity, or his designee, would be required to make the decision that a requested modification was a fundamental alteration or would result in an undue burden, and provide a written decision to the requestor, stating this requirement would take substantial staff time to complete. Many commenters provided examples or, in some cases, extensive lists, of the kinds of modifications they had been asked or might be asked to make, many of which they believed were unreasonable. A number of commenters said the rule would force paratransit operators to operate in a door-to-door mode, eliminating, as a practical matter, the curb-to-curb service option. A major comment from many transit industry sources was that reasonable modification would unreasonably raise the costs of providing paratransit. Per-trip costs would rise, various commenters said, because of increased dwell time at stops, the need for additional personnel (e.g., an extra staff person on vehicles to assist passengers), increased insurance costs, lower service productivity, increased need for training, or preventing providers from charging fees for what they would otherwise view as premium service. Some of these com- menters attached numbers to their predictions of increased costs (e.g., the costs of paratransit would rise from 22â50 percent, nationwide costs would rise by $1.89â2.7 billion), though, with few exceptions, these numbers appeared to be based on extrapolations premised on assump- tions about the requirements of the NPRM that were contrary to the language of the NPRMâs regulatory text and preamble or on no analysis at all. Commenters opposed to the proposal also raised safety issues, again principally in the con- text of paratransit. Making some reasonable modifications would force drivers to leave vehicles, commenters said. This could result in other passengers being left alone, which could expose them to hazards. Drivers leaving a vehicle would have to turn off the vehicleâs engine, result- ing in no air conditioning or heating for other passengers in the time the driver was outside the vehicle. The driver could be exposed to injury outside the vehicle (e.g., from a trip and fall).
B-6 Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-7 A smaller number of commenters also expressed concern about the application of the rea- sonable modification concept to fixed route bus service. Some commenters said that the idea of buses stopping at other than a designated bus stop was generally unsafe and burdensome, could cause delays, and impair the clarity of service. A number of these commenters appeared to believe that the NPRM could require transit entities to stop anywhere along a route where a person with a disability was flagging a bus down, which they said would be a particularly bur- densome practice. Commenters also made legal arguments against the proposal. Some commenters supported the approach taken by the court in Melton. Others said that the Department lacks statutory authority under the ADA to require reasonable modification or that reasonably modifying para- transit policies and practices would force entities to exceed the âcomparableâ service require- ments of the statute. Some of these commenters said that the proposal would push entities too far in the direction of providing individualized, human service-type transportation, rather than mass transit. A number of commenters also said that it was good policy to maintain local option for entities in terms of the service they provide. Others argued that the proposed action was inconsistent with statutes or Executive Orders related to unfunded mandates and Federalism. A variety of commentersâin both the disability community and transportation industryâ noted that a significant number of paratransit operators already either provide door-to-door service as [Start Printed Page 13256] their basic mode of service (some commenters said as many as 50 percent of paratransit operators provide door-to-door service) or follow what, in effect, is curb-to-curb with reasonable modification approach for paratransit, or allowed fixed route buses flexibility in terms of where they stop. Some of these commenters said that transit opera- tors imposed conditions on the kind of modifications that could be made (e.g., drivers could only leave the vehicle for a limited time or distance). In some cases, commenters said, while they use their discretion to make the kinds of modifica- tions the NPRM proposed, they wanted these actions to remain discretionary, rather than being the subject of a federal mandate. A smaller number of commenters asked for additional guid- ance on expectations under a reasonable modification rule or for clarification of an enforcement mechanism for the proposed requirement. Disability community commenters were virtually unanimous in supporting the proposal, saying that curb-to-curb paratransit service was often inadequate for some people with dis- abilities, who, in some circumstances, could not make use of ADA-mandated paratransit ser- vice. For example, medical oxygen users should not have to use part of their supply waiting at the curb for a vehicle; blind passengers may need wayfinding assistance to get to or from a vehicle; or bad weather may make passage to or from a vehicle unduly difficult for wheelchair users. Some disability community commenters supported the inclusion in the rule of various other provisions of the DOJ ADA regulations (e.g., with respect to auxiliary aids and services). DOT Response to Comments Reasonable modification is a central concept of disability nondiscrimination law, based on the principle that it is essential for entities to consider individuals with disabilities as indi- viduals, not simply as members of a category. The concept recognizes that entities may have general policies, legitimate on their face, that prevent nondiscriminatory access to entitiesâ ser- vice, programs, or facilities by some individuals with disabilities under some circumstances. The concept calls on entities to make individual exceptions to these general policies, where needed to provide meaningful, nondiscriminatory access to services, programs, or facilities, unless making such an exception would require a fundamental alteration of an entityâs programs.
Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-7 Reasonable modification requirements are part of existing requirements for recipients of federal financial assistance, DOJ ADA rules for public and private entities, DOT ADA rules for passenger vessels, and DOT rules under the Air Carrier Access Act. In none of these contexts has the existence of a reasonable modification requirement created a significant obstacle to the conduct of the wide variety of public and private functions covered by these rules. Nor has it led to noticeable increases in costs. At this point, surface transportation entities are the only class of entities not explicitly covered by an ADA regulatory reasonable modification requirement. Having reviewed the comments to this rulemaking, the Department has concluded that com- menters failed to make a persuasive case that there is legal justification for public transportation entities to be treated differently than other transportation entities. Further, per the analysis above, section 504 requires entities receiving federal financial assistance to make reasonable accommodations to policies and practices when necessary to provide nondiscriminatory access to services. This existing requirement applies to nearly all public transportation entities. As stated in the NPRM, DOT recognizes that not all requests by individuals with disabilities for modifications of transportation provider policies are, in fact, reasonable. The NPRM recog- nized three types of modifications that would not create an obligation for a transportation pro- vider to agree with a request: (1) Those that would fundamentally alter the providerâs program, (2) those that would create a direct threat, as defined in 49 C.F.R. 37.3, as a significant risk to the health or safety of others, and (3) those that are not necessary to enable an individual to receive the providerâs services. The NPRM provided some examples of modifications that should be or need not be granted. Commenters from both the disability community and the transit industry provided a vastly larger set of examples of modifications that they had encountered or believed either should or should not be granted. To respond to commentersâ concerns that, given the wide variety of requests that can be made, it is too difficult to make the judgment calls involved, the Department has created an Appendix E to its ADA regulation that lists examples of types of requests that we believe, in most cases, either will be reasonable or not. This guidance recognizes that, given the wide variety of circumstances with which transportation entities and passengers deal, there may be some generally reasonable requests that could justly be denied in some circumstances, and some requests that generally need not be granted that should be granted in other circumstances. In addition, we recognize that no list of potential requests can ever be completely comprehensive, since the possible situ- ations that can arise are far more varied than can be set down in any document. That said, we hope that this Appendix will successfully guide transportation entitiesâ actions in a substantial majority of the kinds of situations commenters have called to our attention, substantially reduc- ing the number of situations in which from-scratch judgment calls would need to be made, and will provide an understandable framework for transportation entitiesâ thinking about specific requests not listed. Of course, as the Department learns of situations not covered in the Appen- dix, we may add to it. The Department wants again to make clear that, as stated in the preamble to the last rulemaking: [the] September 2005 guidance concerning origin-to-destination service remains the Depart- mentâs interpretation of the obligations of ADA complementary paratransit providers under existing regulations. As with other interpretations of regulatory provisions, the Department will rely on this interpretation in implementing and enforcing the origin-to-destination requirement of part 37. 76 FR 57924, 57934 (Sept. 19, 2011). Thus, achieving the objective of providing origin-to-destination service does not require enti- ties to make door-to-door service their basic mode of service provision. It remains entirely consistent with the Departmentâs ADA rule to provide ADA complementary paratransit in a curb-to-curb mode. When a paratransit operator does so, however, it would need to make
B-8 Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-9 exceptions to its normal curb-to-curb policy where a passenger with a disability makes a request for assistance beyond curb-to-curb service that is needed to provide access to the service and does not result in a fundamental alteration or direct threat to the health or safety of others. Given the large number of comments on this issue, and to further clarify the Departmentâs position on this, we have added a definition of âorigin-to-destinationâ in part 37. As commenters noted, a significant number of paratransit operators already follow an origin- to-destination policy that addresses the needs of passengers that require assistance beyond the curb in order to use the paratransit service. This fact necessarily means that these providers can and do handle individual [Start Printed Page 13257] requests successfully. When a significant number of complementary paratransit systems already do essentially what this rule requires, or more, it is difficult to argue that it cannot be done without encountering insuperable problems. To respond to commentersâ concerns about an asserted onerous review process of requested modifications, the Department has removed the requirement that a response to a request be in writing, and is amending the complaint procedure in 49 C.F.R. 27.13, and then mirroring that provision in a new section 37.17, to ensure it applies not just to recipients of federal funds but to all designated public transportation entities. A person who is denied a modification may file a complaint with the entity, but the process would be the same as with any other complaint, so no separate complaint procedure is listed in 37.169. With respect to fixed route bus service, the Departmentâs positionâelaborated upon in Appendix Eâis that transportation providers are not required to stop at nondesignated loca- tions. That is, a bus operator would not have to stop and pick up a person who is trying to flag down the bus from a location unrelated to or not in proximity to a designated stop, regardless of whether or not that person has a disability. On the other hand, if a person with a disability is near a bus stop, but cannot get to the precise location of the bus stop sign (e.g., because there is not an accessible path of travel to that precise location) or cannot readily access the bus from the precise location of the bus stop sign (e.g., because of construction, snow, or a hazard that makes getting onto the lift from the area of the bus stop sign too difficult or dangerous), then it is consistent both with the principle of reasonable modification and with common sense to pick up that passenger a modest distance from the bus stop sign. Doing so would not fundamentally alter the service or cause significant delays or degradation of service. While it is understandable that commenters opposed to reasonable modification would sup- port the outcome of Melton and cases that followed, it is important to understand that the reasoning of these cases is based largely on the proposition that, in the absence of a DOT ADA regulation, transportation entities could not be required to make reasonable modifications on the basis of DOJ requirements, standing alone. This final rule will fill the regulatory gap that Melton identified. While Melton stated that there was a gap in coverage with respect to pub- lic transportation and paratransit, as Â§ 37.5(f) notes, private entities that were engaged in the business of providing private transportation services have always been obligated to provide reasonable modifications under title III of the ADA. Further, as stated above, reasonable accom- modation is a requirement under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. We do not agree with commenters who asserted that reasonable modification goes beyond the concept of comparable complementary paratransit found in the ADA, going too far in the direc- tion of individualized, human services transportation, rather than mass transit. To the contrary, complementary paratransit remains a shared-ride service that must meet regulatory service cri- teria. Nothing in this final rule changes that. What the final rule does make clear is that in pro- viding complementary paratransit service, transit authorities must take reasonable steps, even if case-by-case exceptions to general procedures, to make sure that eligible passengers can actually get to the service and use it for its intended purpose. ADA complementary paratransit remains a
Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-9 safety net for individuals with disabilities who cannot use accessible fixed route service. Adhering rigidly to policies that deny access to this safety net is inconsistent with the nondiscrimination obligations of transportation entities. Because transportation entities would not be required to make any modifications to their general policies that would fundamentally alter their service, the basic safety net nature of complementary paratransit service remains unchanged. By the terms of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, as amended, requirements to comply with nondiscrimination laws, including those pertaining to disability, are not unfunded mandates subject to the provisions of the Act. 2 U.S.C. 1503. As a practical matter, for the vast majority of transportation entities subject to the DOT ADA regulation who receive FTA or other DOT financial assistance, compliance with any DOT regulations is, to a significant degree, a funded mandate. For both these reasons, comments suggesting that the proposal would impose an unfunded mandate were incorrect. With respect to federalism, state and local governments were consulted about the rule, both by means of the opportunity to comment on the NPRM and a public meeting. Transportation authoritiesâmany of which are likely to be state and local entitiesâdid participate extensively in the rulemaking process, as the docket amply demonstrates. As stated previously, transporta- tion industry commenters prefer to use their discretion to make the kinds of modifications the NPRM proposed, rather than being subject to a federal mandate. These entities continue to have the discretion to grant or deny requests for reasonable modification, albeit in the context of Appendix E. The effects of the final rule on fixed route service are quite modest, and comments did not assert the contrary. The issue of the cost impact of the reasonable modification focused almost exclusively on ADA complementary paratransit. There was little in the way of allegations that making exceptions to usual policies would increase costs in fixed route service. In looking at the allegations of cost increases on ADA complementary paratransit, the Depart- ment stresses that all recipients of federal financial assistanceâwhich includes public transpor- tation entities of complementary paratransit serviceâare already required to modify policies, practices, and procedures if needed by an individual with a disability to enable him or her to participate in the recipientâs programs or activities, and this principle has been applied by federal agencies and the courts accordingly. However, to provide commenters with a fuller response to their comments, the Department would further make three primary points. First, based on statements on transportation provider web sites and other information, one-half to two-thirds of transit authorities already provide either door-to-door service as their basic mode of service or provide what amounts to curb-to-curb service with assistance beyond the curb as necessary in order to enable the passenger to use the service. The rule would not require any change in behavior, or any increase in costs, for these entities. Second, the effect of providing paratransit service in a door to door, or curb-to-curb, with reasonable modification, mode on per-trip costs is minimal. In situations where arrangements for reasonable modification are made in advance, which would be a significant portion of all paratransit modification requests, per- trip costs could even be slightly lower. The concerns expressed by commenters that per-trip costs would escalate markedly appear not to be supported by the data. Third, there could be cost increases, compared to current behavior, for paratransit operators that do not comply with existing origin-to-destination [Start Printed Page 13258] requirements of the rule. Suppressing paratransit ridership by preventing eligible individuals from using the service or making the use of the service inconvenient saves money for entities. Conversely, making service more usable, and hence more attractive, could increase usage. Because of the operating cost-intensive nature of paratransit service, providing service to more people tends to increase costs. The Department estimated that increased costs from increased ridership stemming from improved service could
B-10 Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-11 amount to $55 million per year nationwide for those public transportation entities who are not in compliance with the current DOT origin-to-destination regulations. This estimate would be at the upper end of the range of possible ridership-generated cost increases, since it is not clear that transportation entities with a strict curb-to-curb policy never provide modifications to their service. Analysts made the assumption that transportation agencies with curb-to-curb policies did not make modifications when modifications were not mentioned on the entitiesâ web sites. Disability community commenters suggested that, as a practical matter, transportation entities often provide what amounts to modifications even if their formal policies do not call for doing so. In addition, it should be emphasized that transportation entities who comply with the existing ruleâs origin-to-destination requirement will not encounter ridership-related cost increases. In an important sense, any paratransit operation that sees an increase in ridership when this rule goes into effect are experiencing increased costs at this time because of their unwillingness to comply with existing requirements over the past several years. Provisions of the Final Rule In amendments to 49 C.F.R. Part 27 (the Departmentâs section 504 rule) and part 37 (the Departmentâs ADA rule for most surface transportation), the Department is incorporating spe- cific requirements to clarify that public transportation entities are required to modify policies, practices, procedures that are needed to ensure access to programs, benefits, and services. With regard to the Departmentâs section 504 rule at 49 C.F.R. Part 27, we are revising the regulation to specifically incorporate the preexisting reasonable accommodation requirement recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court (see, e.g., Choate and Davis). The revised section 27.7 will clarify that recipients of federal financial assistance are required to provide reasonable accommodations to policies, practices, or procedures when the accommodations are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability unless making the modifications (1) would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity, or (2) would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. With regard to the Departmentâs ADA regulations in part 37, we are revising the regulation to further clarify this requirement and to fill in the gap identified by the courts. Under our revised part 37 regulations, public transportation entities may deny requests for modifications to their policies and practices on one or more of the following grounds: Making the modifica- tions (1) would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity, (2) would result in a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or (3) without the requested modi- fication, the individual with a disability is able to fully use the entityâs services, programs, or activities for their intended purpose. Please note that under our section 504 regulations at part 27, there is an undue financial and administrative burden defense, which is not relevant to our ADA regulations at part 37. This final rule revises section 37.169, which focuses on the reasonable modification obligations of public entities providing designated public transportation, including fixed route, demand responsive, and complementary paratransit service. The key requirement of the section is that these types of transportation entities implement their own processes for making decisions on and providing reasonable modifications to their policies and practices. In many cases, agencies are handling requests for modifications during the paratransit eligibility process, customer ser- vice inquiries, and through the long-existing requirement in the Departmentâs section 504 rule for a complaint process. Entities will need to review existing procedures and conform them to the new rule as needed. The Department is not requiring that the process be approved by DOT,
Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-11 and the shape of the process is up to the transportation provider, but it must meet certain basic criteria. The DOT can, however, review an entityâs process as part of normal program oversight, including compliance reviews and complaint investigations. First, the entity must make information about the process, and how to use it, readily available to the public, including individuals with disabilities. For example, if a transportation provider uses printed media and a web site to inform customers about bus and paratransit services, then it must use these means to inform people about the reasonable modification process. Of course, like all communications, this information must be provided by means accessible to individuals with disabilities.[See 28 C.F.R. 35.160(b)(1).] Second, the process must provide an accessible means by which individuals with disabilities can request a reasonable modification/accommodation. Whenever feasible, requests for modi- fications should be made in advance. This is particularly appropriate where a permanent or long-term condition or barrier is the basis for the request (e.g., difficulty in access to a paratransit vehicle from the passengerâs residence; the need to eat a snack on a rail car to maintain a dia- beticâs blood sugar levels; lack of an accessible path of travel to a bus stop, resulting in a request to have the bus stop a short distance from the bus stop location). In the paratransit context, it may often be possible to consider requests of this kind in conjunction with the eligibility process. The request from the individual with a disability should be as specific as possible and include information on why the requested modification is needed in order to allow the individual to use the transportation providerâs services. Third, the process must also provide for those situations in which an advance request and determination is not feasible. The Department recognizes that these situations are likely to be more difficult to handle than advance requests, but responding to them is necessary. For exam- ple, a passenger who uses a wheelchair may be able to board a bus at a bus stop near his residence but may be unable to disembark due to a parked car or utility repair blocking the bus boarding and alighting area at the stop near his destination. In such a situation, the transit vehicle operator would have the front-line responsibility for deciding whether to grant the on-the-spot request, though it would be consistent with the rule for the operator to call his or her supervisor for guidance on how to proceed. Further, section 37.169 states three grounds on which a transportation provider could deny a requested modification. These grounds apply both to advance requests and on-the-spot requests. The first ground is that the request would result in a fundamental alteration of the providerâs services (e.g., a request for a dedicated vehicle in [Start Printed Page 13259] paratransit service, a request for a fixed route bus to deviate from its normal route to pick up someone). The second ground is that fulfilling a request for a modification would create a direct threat to the health or safety of others (e.g., a request that would require a driver to engage in a highly hazardous activ- ity in order to assist a passenger, such as having to park a vehicle for a prolonged period of time in a no-parking zone on a high-speed, high-volume highway that would expose the vehicle to a heightened probability of being involved in a crash). Third, the requested modification would not be necessary to permit the passenger to use the entityâs services for their intended purpose in a nondiscriminatory fashion (e.g., the modification might make transportation more conve- nient for the passenger, who could nevertheless use the service successfully to get where he or she is going without the modification). Appendix E provides additional examples of requested modifications that transportation entities usually would not be required to grant for one or more of these reasons. Where a transportation provider has a sound basis, under this section, for denying a reason- able modification request, the entity would still need to do all it could to enable the requester to receive the services and benefits it provides (e.g., a different work-around to avoid an
B-12 Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-13 obstacle to transportation from the one requested by the passenger). Transportation agencies that are federal recipients are required to have a complaint process in place. The Department has added a new section 37.17 that extends the changes made to 49 C.F.R. 27.13 to all public and private entities that provide transportation services, regardless of whether the entity receives federal funds. By requiring entities to implement a local reasonable modification process, the Department intends decisions on individual requests for modification to be addressed at the local level. The Department does not intend to use its complaint process to resolve disagreements between transportation entities and individuals with disabilities about whether a particular modification request should have been granted. However, if an entity does not have the required process, it is not being operated properly (e.g., the process is inaccessible to people with disabilities, does not respond to communications from prospective complainants), it is not being operated in good faith (e.g., virtually all complaints are routinely rejected, regardless of their merits), or in any particular case raising a federal interest, DOT agencies may intervene and take enforcement action. Regulatory Analyses and Notices Executive Order 12866 (Regulatory Planning and Review), DOT Regulatory Policies and Procedures, and Executive Order 13563 (Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review) This final rule is not significant for purposes of Executive Orders 12866 and 13563 and the DOT Regulatory Policies and Procedures. Therefore, it has not been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget under Executive Order 12866 and Executive Order 13563. The costs of this rulemaking are expected to be minimal for two reasons. First, modifications to policies, practices, and procedures, if needed by an individual with a disability to enable him or her to participate in a program or activity, are already required by other federal law that applies to recipients of federal financial assistance. Since virtually every entity subject to this final rule receives federal financial assistance, each entity should already be modifying its policies, prac- tices, and procedures when necessary. Second, the reasonable modification/accommodation requirements contained in this final rule are not very different from the origin-to-destination requirement already applicable to complementary paratransit service, as required by current DOT regulations at 49 C.F.R. 37.129(a) and as described in its implementing guidance. How- ever, the Department recognizes that it is likely that some regulated entities are not complying with the current section 504 requirements and origin-to-destination regulation. In those cir- cumstances only, the Department estimates that increased costs from increased ridership stem- ming from improved service could amount to $55 million per year nationwide for those public transportation entities who are not in compliance with the current DOT origin-to-destination regulations and section 504 requirements. Those costs are not a cost of this rule, but rather a cost of coming into compliance with current law. Executive Order 13132 (Federalism) This final rule has been analyzed in accordance with the principles and criteria contained in Executive Order 13132. This final rule does not include any provision that (1) has sub- stantial direct effects on the states, the relationship between the national government and the states, or the distribution of power and responsibilities among the various level of gov- ernment; (2) imposes substantial direct compliance costs on state and local governments; or (3) preempts state law. Therefore, the rule does not have federalism impacts sufficient to warrant the preparation of a Federalism Assessment.
Prefatory Language from the March 13, 2015, Federal Register Notice B-13 Executive Order 13084 (Consultation and Coordination With Indian Tribal Governments) The final rule has been analyzed in accordance with the principles and criteria contained in Executive Order 13084. Because this final rule does not significantly or uniquely affect the com- munities of the Indian Tribal governments or impose substantial direct compliance costs on them, the funding and consultation requirements of Executive Order 13084 do not apply. Regulatory Flexibility Act The Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601, et seq.) requires an agency to review regulations to assess their impact on small entities unless the agency determines that a rule is not expected to have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The Department certifies that this rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The rule may affect actions of some small entities (e.g., small paratransit opera- tions). However, the bulk of paratransit operators are not small entities, and the majority of all paratransit operators already appear to be in compliance. There are not significant cost impacts on fixed route service at all, and the number of small grantees who operate fixed route systems is not large. Since operators can provide service in a demand-responsive mode (e.g., route devia- tion) that does not require the provision of complementary paratransit, significant financial impacts on any given operator are unlikely. Paperwork Reduction Act This rule imposes no new information reporting or recordkeeping necessitating clearance by the Office of Management and Budget. National Environmental Policy Act The agency has analyzed the environmental impacts of this action pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and has determined that it is categorically excluded pursuant to DOT Order 5610.1C, Procedures for Considering Envi- ronmental Impacts (44 FR 56420, Oct. 1, 1979). Categorical exclusions are actions identified in an agencyâs NEPA implementing [Start Printed Page 13260] procedures that do not normally have a significant impact on the environment and therefore do not require either an environ- mental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS). See 40 C.F.R. 1508.4. In analyzing the applicability of a categorical exclusion, the agency must also consider whether extrao rdinary circumstances are present that would warrant the preparation of an EA or EIS. Id. Paragraph 3.c.5 of DOT Order 5610.1C incorporates by reference the categorical exclusions for all DOT Operating Administrations. This action is covered by the categorical exclusion listed in the Federal Highway Administrationâs implementing procedures, â[p]romulgation of rules, reg- ulations, and directives.â 23 C.F.R. 771.117(c)(20). The purpose of this rule making is to provide that transportation entities are required to make reasonable modifications/accommodations to policies, practices, and procedures to avoid discrimination and ensure that their programs are accessible to individuals with disabilities. The agency does not anticipate any environmen- tal impacts, and there are no extraordinary circumstances present in connection with this rulemaking. There are a number of other statutes and Executive Orders that apply to the rulemaking process that the Department considers in all rulemakings. However, none of them is relevant to this rule. These include the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (which does not apply to non- discrimination/civil rights requirements), Executive Order 12630 (concerning property rights), Executive Order 12988 (concerning civil justice reform), and Executive Order 13045 (protection of children from environmental risks).
B-14 Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule List of Subjects 49 C.F.R. Part 27 â¢ Administrative practice and procedure â¢ Airports â¢ Civil rights â¢ Highways and roads â¢ Individuals with disabilities â¢ Mass transportation â¢ Railroads â¢ Reporting and recordkeeping requirements 49 C.F.R. Part 37 â¢ Buildings and facilities â¢ Buses â¢ Civil rights â¢ Individuals with disabilities â¢ Mass transportation â¢ Railroads â¢ Reporting and recordkeeping requirements â¢ Transportation