Background

The Need for Passenger Vessel Accessibility Guidelines. Private entities, and State and local governments covered by the ADA must ensure that the facilities they build or alter are accessible to people with disabilities. The Board’s guidelines specify the minimum level of accessibility in new construction and alteration projects and serve as the basis for enforceable standards maintained by the Department of Justice and Department of Transportation. Currently, the Board’s guidelines focus on facilities provided on landside sites. Passenger vessels are required to be accessible under the ADA, but no specific guidelines are currently available to inform the public about how to make passenger vessels accessible to people with disabilities.

Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee. To assist in developing passenger vessel accessibility guidelines, the Board created a 21-member advisory committee in 1998 to develop recommendations for passenger vessel accessibility guidelines. The Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee was made up of disability organizations, industry trade groups, State and local government agencies, and passenger vessel operators. The committee held nine meetings between September 1998 and September 2000. The committee submitted its final report “Recommendations for Accessibility Guidelines for Passenger Vessels” to the Board in December 2000.

Draft Guidelines -- First Draft (November 26, 2004). An ad hoc group of Board members reviewed the advisory committee’s report in depth and crafted a set of draft guidelines applicable to large passenger vessels (i.e., permitted to carry more than 150 passengers or more than 49 overnight passengers) based on the committee’s recommendations. Because the draft guidelines departed from the advisory committee’s report in several areas, the Board made a draft of the guidelines available for comment by the public. A notice of availability of the draft guidelines was published in the Federal Register (69 FR 69244; November 26, 2004). The Board requested information and feedback on the draft guidelines, including usability and cost data. At the same time the 2004 draft was released, the Board also published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on small passenger vessels (69 FR 69245; November 26, 2004). In addition to seeking written comment, the Board held public hearings in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, CA.

ANPRM on Small Passenger Vessels. The ANPRM defined a small passenger vessel as one which carried 150 or fewer passengers, or 49 or fewer overnight passengers. Public comment was requested on four potential options which could be further developed by the Board to address access to and on small vessels. The options included:

  1. Require these small vessels to comply with the same design, construction, and alteration requirements applicable to larger vessels except where it is not operationally or structurally feasible. Where a provision is not operationally or structurally feasible, compliance would be to the maximum extent practicable. Under this option, the Board also sought comment on which particular provisions might be considered operationally or structurally infeasible.
  2. Require these small vessels to comply with chapter 12 (Subchapters C & T; New Construction Access Specifications for Small Passenger Vessels) of the advisory committee report.
  3. Develop general performance requirements which must be met when designing, constructing or altering smaller vessels. General performance requirements list objectives, rather than detailed design requirements, which must be accomplished to determine if a vessel is accessible. Examples of general performance requirements were included with the option.
  4. As these small vessels decrease in size or passenger capacity, this option sought comment to determine at what vessel size or passenger count did the application of the 2004 draft become infeasible.

Public Comments. Over 90 comments were received from the public in response to the publication of the 2004 draft and ANRPM. Key issues from the comments were identified for analysis. Issues regarding the 2004 draft included which vessels should be subject to the guidelines, employee areas, criteria for embarking and disembarking, high door thresholds (coamings), alterations, methods for swimming pool access, elevator car size, guest room scoping, dispersion of wheelchair spaces in assembly areas, and visual emergency alarms.

Comments focusing on the ANPRM ranged from requesting the Board to exempt small passenger vessels, to supporting option two and (to a lesser degree) option three. Many commenters recommended that the Board concentrate its efforts on addressing large passenger vessels first.

Draft Guidelines -- Second Draft. Based on public comments and other information collected by the Board, the Board made changes to some of the provisions in the 2004 draft. To facilitate the gathering of cost data necessary for the next step in this rulemaking which is the preparation of a regulatory assessment (costs and benefits) and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the Board is placing this revised draft in the rulemaking docket. In order to develop an accurate picture of the potential costs and benefits of this rulemaking, the Board intends to work closely with passenger vessel industry representatives and others who have data on both current cost and industry practices and the knowledge and skills to assess potential effects.

The Board is interested in receiving public comments on this entire second draft. Changes made in this draft from the November 26, 2004 draft are summarized below.

Relationship to ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG). In 2004, the Access Board revised ADAAG. Access concepts present in ADAAG were used by the Board, along with recommendations from the advisory committee, to create its November 2004 draft of the passenger vessel accessibility guidelines (PVAG). The Board plans to have ADAAG and PVAG as two separate documents. ADAAG addresses access for buildings and facilities, and PVAG addresses access for passenger vessels. However, both will overlap in the area of getting passengers on and off passenger vessels. In the Board’s future NPRM on PVAG, the Board will also be proposing to amend ADAAG to address this on/off issue. The Board plans that the ADAAG amendments will parallel the on/off requirements contained in V208 and V412 of this draft.

Rulemaking Process. As noted earlier, the Board creates guidelines under the ADA which serve as the basis for enforceable standards maintained by other agencies. To create final guidelines and enforceable standards, in general, the rulemaking process will comprise the following steps.

  • Board made draft guidelines available for public comment (2004);
  • Board makes a second draft available for public comment and collects regulatory assessment data (2006);
  • Board completes the regulatory assessment and publishes for public comment a NPRM on passenger vessel accessibility guidelines and amendments to ADAAG;
  • Board finalizes the vessel guidelines and ADAAG amendments, and updates the regulatory assessment based on the final guidelines and amendments;
  • DOT completes its regulatory assessment and publishes its NPRM to adopt the provisions from the vessel guidelines and ADAAG amendments into its enforceable standards; and
  • DOT finalizes its standards and updates its regulatory assessment based on the final standards.