Electric Wheelchairs and Public Transportation

Many people who use wheelchairs also rely on public transportation. Public transportation systems need to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by providing reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities and their assistive equipment, including electric wheelchairs. There are different rules for different transit authorities, so consult with your local transit authority on their requirements. This will allow you to travel safely. Here are some general guidelines for wheelchair users that are good to know when it comes to public transportation.

Size Limits for Wheelchairs

There are a few rules when taking a power wheelchair or manual wheelchair on a bus. These rules are designed to keep the aisles of buses clear and to ensure assistive devicea don’t interfere with the safety of other riders onboard. Any wheelchair transported on a bus, trolley, subway or other form of public transit must assist the mobility of a passenger when taking it onboard. A wheelchair can be operated manually or with batteries and must have three or more wheels. Wheelchair dimensions can’t exceed 48 inches high and 30 inches wide.

Weight Limits for Wheelchairs

Generally, the operator of the transportation system needs to accommodate a passenger if the lift on the bus can accommodate them and his or her wheelchair. The total weight of an electric wheelchair shouldn’t exceed 600 pounds. If a power wheelchair does weigh more than 600 pounds, the operator is not required to transport the passenger and his or her mobility device. Wheelchair lifts must accommodate both inboard and outboard facing electric wheelchairs. Any wheelchair lift that requires a passenger to face a certain direction is not ADA compliant with the ADA regulations.

Rules on Transferring from Wheelchairs to Seats

All transit operators and personnel must be trained to assist passengers with disabilities and treat them with sensitivity. All transit personnel are responsible for making sure that public transportation is safe and non-discriminatory. Transit personnel can recommend that a passenger transfer from his or her motorized wheelchair to a seat on the bus, but the passenger may decline. Although many electric wheelchairs include safety belts, these safety belts are designed for safe operation while using a wheelchair and not for protecting a user in a vehicle accident. It is most likely safer for the motorized wheelchair user to transfer to a seat.

Securing an Electric Wheelchair During Transit

A transit official can require that a motorized wheelchair be secured during transport and they can decline service to a wheelchair user that refuses to allow his or her wheelchair to be secured. Heavier wheelchairs should be secured with four rear tie downs, instead of two. The chair must be turned off when being transported on the wheelchair lift and wheelchair locks should be used if the mobility device has them.  When the lift is level with the floor of the bus, the user can turn the power of the wheelchair back on and re-engage the drive wheels to move off the lift. Once parked on the bus, the wheelchair needs to be turned off again.


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