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Shared Mobility FAQs: Controlled Substance and Alcohol Testing Requirements

Under federal transit law (49 U.S.C. § 5331), public transportation operations that receive financial assistance under the FTA’s Urbanized Area, Capital Investment Grant and Rural Area programs must conduct controlled substance and alcohol testing of public transportation employees responsible for safety-sensitive functions, including operating, dispatching, and maintaining revenue service vehicles. These FAQs describe the extent to which ridesourcing companies are subject to the drug and alcohol testing requirements.


When do the drug and alcohol rules apply?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) drug and alcohol regulation (49 CFR part 655) provides that the rule applies to recipients and subrecipients of Urbanized Area (§ 5307), Capital Investment Grant (§ 5309) and Rural Area (§ 5311) funds, as well as their contractors and subcontractors. Generally, a ridesourcing company would be a contractor. Under the rule, a contractor is any entity providing a safety-sensitive function for a recipient or subrecipient. The contract may be a written contract or an informal arrangement "that reflects an ongoing relationship between the parties."

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Does the testing requirement apply to employees and independent drivers of contractors not otherwise providing public transportation?

Yes. The drug and alcohol regulation (49 CFR part 655) extends the controlled substance and alcohol testing requirement to employees of contractors performing a safety sensitive function. This includes the independent drivers of a ridesourcing company contracting with a public transportation agency. FTA has consistently interpreted the regulation (49 CFR part 655) to include contractors who do not directly engage in public transportation operations, including taxicab operators, if the taxicab exception does not apply. The exception states: In accordance with the current rule (49 CFR Part 655), "the drug and alcohol testing rules apply when the transit provider enters into a contract with one or more entitites to provide taxi service. The rules do not apply when then patron (using subsidized vouchers) selects the taxi company that provides the transit service….[This policy] recognizes the practical difficulty of administering a drug and alcohol testing program to entitites that only incidentally provide taxi service on behalf of a transportation service. 66 FR 41996, August 9, 2001."

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Are private companies like ridesourcing companies exempt from DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements?

No. There is no categorical exemption of private companies from the controlled substance and alcohol testing requirement. Recipients of Urbanized Area (§ 5307), Capital Investment Grant (§ 5309) and Rural Area (§ 5311) funds must conduct drug and alcohol testing of all employees or contractors performing safety sensitive functions. Ridesourcing companies are subject to the testing requirement to the extent they are a contractor of a recipient and perform a safety sensitive function. However, ridesourcing companies may qualify for the taxicab exception.

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What is the taxicab exception and when does it apply?

In general, when a public transit passenger randomly chooses from among a number of taxicab companies providing service, the testing regulations do not apply. The rationale for this is the practical difficulty of trying to administer a drug and alcohol testing program in connection with multiple companies. An example of this scenario is a guaranteed ride home program, in which the transit agency contracts with multiple (two or more) taxicab companies in the area and a passenger may choose which taxicab company to contact to get a ride home.

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When does the taxicab exception not apply?

The taxicab exception does not apply when a passenger does not choose the taxicab company providing the service. For example, many ADA paratransit agencies contract with taxicab companies and other entities to provide ADA paratransit service to ambulatory passengers. In those situations, when the ADA paratransit provider (not the passenger) contacts the taxicab company to schedule the ride, the drug and alcohol rules apply to the taxicab company providing the service. Similarly, if a public transit agency provides vouchers to passengers to use for one taxicab company, the passenger does not have a choice of which company to contact, so the drug and alcohol rules apply.

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Does the taxicab exception apply to ridesourcing companies?

It depends. The rationale for the taxicab exception is the same for ridesourcing companies when a public transit agency has a contractual or other arrangement with two or more ridesourcing companies or taxicab companies to provide a specific service or type of service, and the public transit passenger chooses among the providers. In this case, the public transit agency would have to contract with at least two ridesourcing companies and/or taxicab companies to ensure the passenger has a choice of which provider to contact for a ride.

There may be some situations in which a public transit agency contracts with two or more ridesourcing companies as well as one or more taxicab companies in order to ensure the service is available for all passengers. For example, the taxicab company may be the only contractor with accessible vehicles, or may be the only contractor able to schedule trips over the phone or accept cash payment from passengers. While some passengers may have only one choice, this does not change the fact that many passengers will have more than one choice, and so the taxicab exception will apply to all of the providers.

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If my project is funded with Public Transportation Innovation (§ 5312) research funds, does the drug and alcohol testing requirement apply?

No. If the project is funded with research dollars, the law permits the Secretary to prescribe terms and conditions for the grant award. FTA has determined the drug and alcohol rules do not apply to these funds, even if the recipient of Public Transportation Innovation (§ 5312) research funds is also a recipient of Urbanized Area (§ 5307), Capital Investment Grant (§ 5309) or Rural Area (§ 5311) funds.

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Do the drug and alcohol rules apply to pilot programs that do not use any FTA funds?

Yes. Previously, FTA under certain circumstances permitted an exemption from FTA’s drug and alcohol rules for up to one year for pilot programs run by public transit agencies. FTA has discontinued that exemption, with the exception of allowing already-existing pilot programs that were making use of the exemption to complete their one-year exemption period. Apart from that exception, if a transit agency subsidizes ridesourcing services, the transit agency must either design the service such that the taxicab exception applies, or incorporate the ridesourcing company drivers into the drug and alcohol program.

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Learn more about FTA’s Drug and Alcohol Program or contact our program manager.

Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2018
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