Public Transportation Law & Legal Definition


Public transportation is subject to federal and state laws, which vary by state. Public transportation refers to all service involved in the transportation of passengers for hire by means of street railway, elevated railway, subway, underground railroad, motor vehicles, or other means of conveyance generally associated with or developed for mass surface or sub-surface transportation of the public, but does not include any service involved in transportation by taxicab, airport limousine, or industrial bus.

State and local laws may provide for regulating rates charged to passengers, financing through the issuance of bonds and other means, tax exemptions, and employee qualifications, among other issues. Some of the important federal legislation affecting public transportation has included:

1990: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) required transit agencies to provide service accessible to persons with disabilities.

1990: The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 recast transportation planning to provide for improved air quality.

1991: The Federal Transit Act Amendments of 1991, Title III of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) extended public transportation assistance through FY 1997, increased the amounts authorized, re-named the transit law the Federal Transit Act and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration the Federal Transit Administration, and converted the rail modernization portion of Section 5309 major capital funds to a formula basis.

1991: The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 mandated the establishment of anti-drug and alcohol misuse programs for safety-sensitive employees of recipients and contractors to recipients of Major Capital Investment, Urbanized Area Formula, and Rural Area Formula public transportation funds.

1992: The Energy Policy Act of 1992 increased the tax-free amount of the public transportation commuter fringe benefit to $60 per month with an inflation provision, removed the cliff provision which had made the entire benefit taxable if the monthly limit was exceeded, and extended the benefit to vanpools.

1994: The Federal Transit Act was codified as Title 49, Chapter 53--Mass Transportation, of the United States Code.

1997: Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) was extended through March 31, 1998.

1998: The Federal Transit Act of 1998, Title III of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) extends the public transportation program through FY 2003. TEA 21 increases public transportation funding authorizations, up to 70 percent above ISTEA appropriation levels if all authorized amounts are appropriated. A total of $41 billion is authorized for the six-year period, of which $36 billion is guaranteed. Guaranteed amounts are protected in the budget process and can only be appropriated for public transportation uses. The guaranteed amounts, however, are subject to annual appropriation by the Congress.