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Comments to DOT on Accessibility Rule for Air Travelers with Disabilities Using Wheelchairs

In March 2024, the Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a multifaceted regulation that would facilitate greater access to air transportation for passengers with disabilities, particularly those who depend on wheelchairs and other assistive devices. Policy Integrity submitted comments to the agency arguing that, while DOT persuasively shows that the Proposed Rule carries many important benefits, the agency should improve upon its proposal and the accompanying benefit-cost analysis in several ways. Specifically, we offered the following recommendations:

  • In considering whether to adopt the Proposed Rule’s fare-difference provision and how to design it, DOT should heed federal guidance on flexible compliance measures. Such guidance offers high-level support for market-based mechanisms, such as requiring an airline that cannot accommodate a passenger to pay the fare difference to another airline that can. In particular, this approach could create financial incentives for air carriers to offer accommodations to passengers with disabilities.
  • DOT should conduct a benefit-cost analysis for the lavatory-size provision and presumptively adopt the provision if it concludes that benefits justify costs. To help monetize benefits and costs, DOT should incorporate the methodology it used for its recent rule entitled Accessible Lavatories on Single-Aisle Aircraft (the Lavatories Rule).
  • DOT should enhance its presentation of the Proposed Rule’s benefits and costs in several ways. Specifically:
    • DOT should clarify its breakeven estimate for the avoided-injury benefits of the on-board-wheelchair (OBW) provision. DOT should also apply the Lavatories Rule’s methodology to monetize this provision’s benefits related to increased lavatory accessibility, and it should conduct breakeven analyses to account for uncertainty in the number of targeted beneficiaries for the provision.
    • DOT should apply the breakeven methodology used for the OBW provision to the currently unquantified benefits of avoided injuries and fatalities stemming from the enhanced training provision.
    • DOT should explain whether the breakeven level of benefits for the enhanced-training and OBW provisions are plausible.
    • If DOT concludes that the provisions of the Proposed Rule that are currently assumed to be costless actually do impose some costs, then DOT should also account for those provisions’ likely benefits.
    • In assessing the present value of future benefits and costs, DOT should apply a 2% discount rate in line with the updated Circular A-4.
  • DOT should enhance its severability analysis by drawing attention to the fact that the agency separately analyzes each of the Proposed Rule’s provisions and by explaining more specifically why each provision can function independently.