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Transporting a Scooter or Power Wheelchair

Jacqueline A. Hall, MS, OTR/L, MSCS
VA Puget Sound Health Care System – Seattle

What is PMD? 
What are scooter transport requirements? 
What are power wheelchair transport requirements? 
How do you use portable ramps for private vehicles? 
Are there wheelchair accessible transportation services? 
Are there public transportation options? 
What are some power mobility considerations? 
What are the VA resources?

What is PMD?

A major consideration when obtaining a power mobility device (PMD) is the method of transportation from one place to another. Private transportation is the most frequent method of transporting a scooter or power wheelchair. Many people own a sedan or hatchback style passenger car, the majority of which do not have adequate trunk space to transport a power wheelchair or a scooter unless it is disassembled. There are several requirements to consider when wanting to transport scooters and power wheelchairs.
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What are scooter transport requirements?

Scooters are easier to transport due to the ability to break them down into an average of 5 parts - the heaviest of which is 43 to 46 pounds. Typically, the person transporting the scooter needs to be able to:

  • Lift up to 50 pounds
  • Kneel or work at ground level
  • Lift objects 2 to 3 feet off the ground
  • Lift objects into/out of the back seat of a car
  • Lift objects into/out of a car trunk

Note: This requires lifting the scooter over the trunk edge and down 4 to 6 inches into the trunk.

If you cannot lift the scooter parts into the vehicle, there are motorized scooter lifts available. The lift is mounted inside the trunk of the car if it is large enough, and after the scooter seat is removed, the scooter can be stowed in the vehicle.
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What are power wheelchair transport requirements?

There are many styles of power wheelchairs and a variety of ways to transport them. The majority of power wheelchairs can be transported in most vehicles. However, to do this many power wheelchairs will need to be disassembled and then placed in the vehicle. Generally, these power wheelchair models are lighter weight and are intended for intermittent use for individuals under 250 pounds. Typically, the person loading and unloading the wheelchair needs to be able to:

  • Kneel down or work at ground level
  • Reach under the wheelchair to disconnect the wiring
  • Lift up to 50 pounds
  • Lift the chair and pivot the wheelchair frame over the edge of the trunk

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How do you use portable ramps for private vehicles?

A scooter or power wheelchair can also be loaded into a private vehicle using a portable ramp. The ramp must be of an adequate length to safely load and unload the device. To determine the appropriate ramp length for safely loading the scooter or power wheelchair you should:

  • Measure the distance in inches from the ground to the floor of the vehicle at the entry door .
  • Multiply this distance by 7.
  • Divide by 12.

The resulting number is the minimum length in feet, indicating how long the ramp should be to safely stow and unload a power mobility device. For example:

  • The distance in inches from the ground to the floor of the vehicle at the entry door is 12 inches.
  • 12 inches x 7 = 84 inches
  • 84 inches ÷ 12 = 7 feet

For this example, the loading ramp should be 7 feet long.

For safety reasons, the power mobility user should NOT ride or drive their scooter or wheelchair up a portable ramp into the vehicle. The user should set the gears into a freewheel mode and should push it up the ramp and into the vehicle.
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Are there wheelchair accessible transportation services?

If use of a private vehicle is not available, a second option is to use a wheelchair accessible transportation service. Many larger cities and counties have specially designated buses for individual wheelchair or scooter users to be transported to different locations within the community. These programs are usually designed following accessibility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ADA Standards for Accessible Guidelines (ADAAG), as revised. Customers must meet specific eligibility criteria established by the city or county that may include: needing the assistance of another person to ride the bus, the inability to use steps to get on/off the bus, the inability to access a bus stop, or the inability to transfer out of a scooter or power wheelchair once on the bus. There are three primary disadvantages to accessible bus programs:

  • Usually there are specific weights and size limitations for the power mobility device.
  • The ride usually must be scheduled one to seven days in advance.
  • Other individuals might also be picked up en route, resulting in a longer ride to/from home.

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Are there public transportation options?

A third option for transporting a scooter or a power wheelchair is public transportation. Most cities now have buses available for use that are equipped with wheelchair lifts. In general, you will be expected to independently load and unload your wheelchair or scooter within a 2 to 3 minute time period - assistance is usually available for securing the mobility device within the bus. Be aware that buses cannot operate a wheelchair lift on a hill, so you should go to an accessible bus stop on level ground.
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What are some power mobility considerations?

The VA requires that Veterans obtaining a power wheelchair or scooter take responsibility for transporting the mobility device. The decision to provide power mobility equipment is based on medical need, and this will also be considered in provision of equipment to assist with transporting a power wheelchair or scooter. Transportation of power mobility should be considered carefully, and discussed fully with the people whom you will be asking to do the hands-on work. Consider the following:

  • How often will you use the scooter or power wheelchair – is using a manual wheelchair a better option?
  • Will you need to purchase a different vehicle to make full use of your power wheelchair or scooter?
  • How is your health, and/or how is the health of the person who will be loading and unloading your power mobility equipment?
  • If you have a scooter and own a van, can you transfer to a van seat? (Please note: Riding on the scooter in a van is against safety regulations in many states).

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What are the VA resources?

In summary, the use of power mobility frequently means a change in the type of transportation you are currently using. The Prosthetics and Sensory Aids Service (PSAS) within the VA is a good resource for information about eligibility for lifts and vehicle modifications. A Veteran who would like to be evaluated for transportation options for their power mobility device should have their VA primary care provider send a consult to their facility’s PSAS. PSAS will forward the consult to the appropriate service provider that may be a physical therapist, occupational therapist, recreation therapist, or driver training specialist. The clinician will assist you in determining whether an existing vehicle will be suitable for transporting the power mobility device and will recommend the appropriate vehicle and needed modifications. If changing your existing vehicle is not an option at this time, then the clinician can recommend the appropriate private and public transportation options within your community.
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Last Updated: October 2009