Proposed Changes That Received Substantial Comment

The Access Board made available drafts of the proposed rule for public review and comment in April 2007 and November 2008.  The drafts and comments on the drafts are available on the Access Board’s website at: http://www.access-board.gov/transit/.  Proposed changes that received substantial comment are discussed below.  Sections of the proposed rule are referred to by number (e.g., T201).

Ramp Slope

Current Requirements

When the 1991 guidelines were issued, low floor ramped buses were relatively new.  The Access Board did not want to preclude the use of low floor ramped buses because of their efficiency and speed of boarding compared to high floor buses equipped with lifts.  Consequently, the ramp slopes in the 1991 guidelines were based on what was feasible at the time.  The 1991 guidelines specify the a range of maximum slopes for ramps deployed to bus stops with sidewalks and to bus stops without sidewalks.2  The maximum ramp slopes in the 1991 guidelines are shown in the table below and are expressed as the ratio of the rise (distance from bus stop surface to bus floor surface) to the run (usable length of the ramp).

1991 Guidelines
* The 1991 guidelines assume a 6 inch curb at sidewalks.
Bus Stops with Sidewalks
Height of Vehicle Floor Above 6 Inch Curb* Maximum Ramp Slope
3 inches or less 1:4
6 inches or less but more than 3 inches 1:6
9 inches or less but more than 6 inches 1:8
more than 9 inches 1:12
Bus Stops without Sidewalks
Height of Vehicle Floor Above Roadway Maximum Ramp Slope
Any distance 1:4

The following example illustrates the application of the 1991 guidelines.  A low floor bus with a 15 inch high floor that can be lowered by the suspension system (“kneeled”) to 12 inches at bus stops would have to provide a ramp that is at least 48 inches long to meet the maximum slope requirements at both bus stops with sidewalks and bus stops without sidewalks.  At bus stops with sidewalks, the ramp slope would be 1:8.  At bus stops without sidewalks, the ramp slope would be 1:4, or twice as steep as at bus stops with sidewalks.

Proposed Rule

Since the 1991 guidelines were issued, buses have been designed with lower floors and longer ramps that have less steep ramps.3  Research shows that short ramps with slopes steeper than 1:8 are difficult for individuals with disabilities to use.4  There are documented incidents of wheelchairs and their occupants tipping over backwards going up bus ramps with 1:4 slopes.  A study of adverse incident reports from one public transit agency shows that a large percent of the incidents involving passengers who use wheelchairs occur while using bus ramps.5

T303.8.1 simplifies the requirements for ramp slope by specifying a 1:6 maximum slope for ramps deployed to bus stops with sidewalks and to bus stops without sidewalks (referred to as the “roadway” in the proposed rule).

The following example illustrates the application of T303.8.1.  A low floor bus with a 14 inch high floor that can be lowered by the suspension system (“kneeled”) to 10 inches at bus stops would have to provide a ramp that is at least 60 inches long to meet the 1:6 maximum slope to the roadway.  At bus stops with sidewalks, the ramp slope would be 1:15 (assuming a 6 inch curb).

Bus and ramp manufacturers who commented on the drafts of the proposed rule provided varied information on this proposed change.  Some bus and ramp manufacturers stated that the proposed 1:6 maximum slope to the roadway is feasible.  Other bus manufacturers stated that the proposed 1:6 maximum slope to the roadway would involve significant structural changes to buses, or may not be feasible for certain model buses.

Question 1:  Bus and ramp manufacturers are requested to provide additional information on the feasibility of the proposed 1:6 maximum slope to the roadway.  If significant structural changes to buses are involved, provide information on the lead time for making the changes; the costs associated with the changes; and how much the changes would add to the cost per bus.  If is not feasible or would be too costly for certain model buses to meet the proposed 1:6 maximum slope to the roadway, provide information on the vehicle’s design constraints; the vehicle’s floor height to the roadway at the doorway where the ramp is deployed (in the kneeled position where a “kneeling” feature is provided); and the usable length of the vehicle’s ramp when deployed to the roadway.

Question 2:  Van and ramp manufacturers and converters are requested to provide information on the feasibility of the proposed 1:6 maximum slope to the roadway for vans equipped with ramps, and any additional costs that would be incurred as a result of the proposed 1:6 maximum slope to the roadway.

Question 3:  If it is not feasible or would be too costly for certain model buses or vans to provide ramps with 1:6 maximum slopes to the roadway, what alternative solutions should the Access Board or the Department of Transportation consider? For example, on fixed route systems where some or all of the bus stops on a particular route do not have sidewalks should only buses or vans that provide ramps with 1:6 maximum slopes to the roadway or are equipped with lifts be permitted to operate on that route? This would prevent incidents of wheelchairs and their occupants tipping over on steep ramps.  Do different considerations apply to demand responsive systems? For example, are drivers of buses and vans used in demand responsive systems more likely to provide boarding assistance to passengers who use wheelchairs when ramps are deployed to the roadway and have slopes steeper than 1:6? What solutions do transit operators currently implement when ramps are deployed to the roadway and have slopes steeper than 1:6?

Public transit agencies who commented on the drafts of the proposed rule expressed concern that longer ramps (e.g., bi-fold ramps) will be more costly to maintain. Public transit agencies also expressed operational concerns about deploying longer ramps in urban environments with narrow sidewalks and streets.

Question 4:  Ramp manufacturers and public transit agencies that provide longer ramps on their buses are requested to provide information on whether longer ramps are more costly to maintain.  If longer ramps are more costly to maintain, provide data on the annual costs to maintain a longer ramp (e.g., 60 inches) and a shorter ramp (e.g., 48 inches).

Question 5:  Public transit agencies and others are requested to provide information on possible solutions to operational concerns about deploying longer ramps in urban environments with narrow sidewalks and streets.  For example, should a public transit agency that operates buses in urban environments where all the bus stops have sidewalks be permitted to provide a 1:8 maximum slope to the sidewalk (assuming a 6 inch curb), instead of a 1:6 maximum slope to the roadway? If a public transit agency operates buses in urban environments where all the bus stops have sidewalks, and in other environments where some or all of the bus stops do not have sidewalks, and the public transit agency assigns low floor ramped buses with shorter ramps to the urban environments only, and assigns low floor ramped buses with longer ramps or lift equipped buses to the other environments, should the public transit agency be permitted to provide a 1:8 maximum slope to the sidewalk (assuming a 6 inch curb), instead of a 1:6 maximum slope to the roadway on the low floor ramped buses that are assigned to the urban environments only?

Question 6:  Public transit agencies are requested to provide the following information to assist the Access Board evaluate the impacts of the ramp slope requirements in the1991 guidelines and the proposed rule:

  • The number and percentage of bus stops in fixed route systems that do not have sidewalks;
  • The number of individuals who are paratransit eligible because they cannot use buses with steep ramps, the average cost per paratransit trip, and the average number of paratransit trips per passenger per week; and
  • The number of adverse incident reports for the past five years (2005 – 2009) involving low floor ramped buses and passengers who use wheelchairs or scooters, and how many of the incidents occurred while using ramps.

Circulation Paths Connecting Doorways That Provide Accessible Boarding and Wheelchair Spaces

Current Requirements

The Department of Transportation regulations require transit operators to transport wheelchairs and scooters that are up to 30 inches wide and 48 inches long.6  The 1991 guidelines require buses, over-the-road buses, and vans to provide “sufficient clearances” for passengers who use wheelchairs to reach the wheelchair spaces in the vehicles.7  Individuals with disabilities, transit operators, and vehicle manufacturers have requested guidance on what are “sufficient clearances.”

Proposed Rule

T502.2 requires circulation paths connecting doorways that provide accessible boarding and wheelchair spaces to be at least 34 inches wide.  This dimension does not apply to doorways, which are addressed in T503.  This dimension applies from the vehicle floor to a height 40 inches minimum above the vehicle floor.  The circulation path width can be reduced to 30 inches at heights 40 inches minimum above the vehicle floor.8

Bus manufacturers who commented on the drafts of the proposed rule provided varied information on this proposed change.  Some bus manufacturers stated that 34 inches wide circulation paths are feasible.  Other bus manufacturers stated that seats would have to be eliminated to provide 34 inches wide circulation paths.

Question 7:  Bus manufacturers and transit operators are requested to provide additional information on the feasibility of the proposed clear width for circulation paths connecting doorways that provide accessible boarding and wheelchair spaces. If the proposed clear width will result in a loss of seats compared to the current requirement for “sufficient clearances,” provide information on the width of the circulation path currently provided on the vehicle to reach the wheelchair space(s), and the number of seats that would be lost due to the proposed clear width.  Floor and seating plans showing current designs and how the designs would have to be modified to comply with the proposed rule would be helpful for the Access Board to further evaluate this issue.  Information describing how the loss of seats would affect the transit operator’s system would also be helpful.

Question 8: Van manufacturers and converters are requested to provide information on the feasibility of the proposed clear width for circulation paths connecting doorways that provide accessible boarding and wheelchair spaces.  If the proposed clear width will result in modifications to vans compared to the current requirement for “sufficient clearances,” provide information on what modifications would be needed and any costs associated with the modifications.  Information describing how the modifications would affect the transit operator’s system would also be helpful.

The proposed rule does not address maneuvering space at turns, particularly right angle turns at the front of the bus.  Some commenters recommended that performance specifications, including test methods, be established for passengers who use wheelchairs to reach wheelchair spaces in buses, over-the-road buses, and vans.  The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation is developing a computer aided design tool for the accessible design of vehicle interiors that may be useful for this purpose.

Question 9:  Comments are requested on whether performance specifications should be established for passengers who use wheelchairs to reach wheelchair spaces in buses, over-the-road buses, and vans, and approaches for establishing such performance specifications.

Wheelchair Space Maneuvering Clearances

Current Requirements

As explained above, the Department of Transportation regulations require transit operators to transport wheelchairs and scooters that are up to 30 inches wide and 48 inches long.9  The 1991 guidelines require wheelchair spaces in buses, over-the-road buses, and vans to be at least 30 inches wide and 48 inches long.10

Wheelchair spaces in buses, over-the-road buses, and vans are typically confined on three sides by seats, side walls, or wheel wells.  Passengers who use wheelchairs and scoters need additional clearances to maneuver into and out of confined wheelchair spaces.  As explained above, the 1991 guidelines require buses, over-the-road buses, and vans buses to provide “sufficient clearances” for passengers who use wheelchairs to reach wheelchair spaces in the vehicles.11  Individuals with disabilities, transit operators, and vehicle manufacturers have requested guidance on what are “sufficient clearances.”

Proposed Rule

The drafts of the proposed rule considered basing wheelchair space maneuvering clearances in buses, over-the-road buses, and vans on the dimensions for maneuvering clearances in alcoves in the accessibility guidelines for buildings and facilities.12  Transit operators and vehicle manufacturers commented that those dimensions would result in the loss of a significant number of seats, and would involve significant structural changes to paratransit minivans that provide rear entry to wheelchair spaces.  The proposed rule does not use the dimensions for maneuvering clearances in alcoves in the accessibility guidelines for buildings and facilities.

The proposed rule uses the following dimensions recommended by transit operators for wheelchair space maneuvering clearances in buses, over-the-road buses, and vans:

  • T402.4.1 requires 1 inch minimum maneuvering clearance on the short side of wheelchair spaces entered from the front or rear [the total size of the wheelchair space and maneuvering clearance is 31 inches by 48 inches minimum]; and
  • T402.4.2 requires 6 inches minimum maneuvering clearance on the long side of wheelchair spaces entered from the side [the total size of the wheelchair space and maneuvering clearance is 30 inches by 54 inches minimum].

The transit operators who recommended these dimensions stated that they will provide “sufficient clearances” for most wheelchairs and scooters to maneuver into and out of wheelchair spaces in buses, over-the-road buses, and vans, and will not result in a loss of seats or structural changes to paratransit minivans that provide rear entry to wheelchair spaces.

Fold-down seats are permitted to occupy the wheelchair space and maneuvering clearance provided the wheelchair space and maneuvering clearance are not obstructed when the seats are in the up position.  Fold-down seats are permitted to occupy the maneuvering clearance when the wheelchair space is occupied.  Figures are provided in T402.4.1 and T402.4.2 to illustrate the wheelchair space and maneuvering clearance, and use of fold-up seats.

Question 10:  Individuals with disabilities are requested to comment on whether the proposed maneuvering clearances are sufficient for wheelchairs and scooters to maneuver into and out of wheelchair spaces in buses, over-the-road buses, and vans.

Question 11:  Transit operators and vehicle manufacturers are requested to comment on whether the proposed maneuvering clearances and use of fold-down seats will result in a loss of seats compared to the current requirement for “sufficient clearances.” If the proposed maneuvering clearances and use of fold-down seats will result in a loss of seats, provide information on the size of the clearances currently provided on the vehicle to maneuver into and out of the wheelchair space(s), and the number of seats that would be lost due to the proposed maneuvering clearances.  Floor and seating plans showing current designs and how the designs would have to be modified to comply with the proposed rule would be helpful for the Access Board to further evaluate this issue.  Information describing how the loss of seats would affect the transit operator’s system would also be helpful.

Question 12:  Manufacturers and operators of paratransit minivans are requested to provide information on the feasibility of providing additional maneuvering clearance (beyond 1 inch) for rear entry to a wheelchair space without making significant structural changes to the vehicles.

Wheelchair Securement Systems

Current Requirements

The 1991 guidelines require buses, over-the road-buses, and vans to provide wheelchair securement systems at each wheelchair space.13  The 1991 guidelines specify that the wheelchair securement systems secure the wheelchair so that the occupant faces the front or rear of the vehicle.14  On large buses that are more than 22 feet in length, at least one wheelchair securement system must be front facing.15  Side facing securement is not permitted.

Proposed Rule

The proposed rule includes two changes to the current technical requirements for wheelchair securement systems based on research conducted on wheelchair transportation safety since the 1991 guidelines were issued.

T403.3.1 reduces the minimum force that wheelchair securement systems must be designed to restrain wheelchairs and their occupants in the forward longitudinal direction in large vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 30,000 pounds or more.  The design force is reduced from 4,000 pounds to 2,000 pounds based on research showing the “g” loads generated on wheelchairs and their occupants in large vehicles under the following conditions: maximum acceleration (0.2g), maximum braking (0.85g), rapid turning (0.5g), and frontal collision (3g).16  Wheelchair securement systems that are designed to restrain a force of 2,000 pounds in the forward longitudinal direction in large vehicles would provide an appropriate level of protection based on these “g” loads.

Question 13:  Comments are requested on this proposed reduction in design force for wheelchair securement systems in large vehicles.  How will the proposed change affect the costs for wheelchair securement systems in large vehicles?

T403.5 modifies the technical requirements for rear facing wheelchair securement systems to include a forward excursion barrier in addition to current requirement for a padded headrest.  The forward excursion barrier extends from the vehicle floor to a height of 24 inches minimum for the full width of the wheelchair space.17

Question 14:  Comments are requested on including a forward excursion barrier in the technical requirements for rear facing wheelchair securement systems.  Are rear facing securement systems commonly provided in buses, over-the road-buses, and vans? Where provided in new buses, over-the road-buses, and vans, do rear facing securement systems currently include forward excursion barriers? Will the forward excursion barrier result in any additional costs for new buses, over-the road-buses, and vans that provide rear facing securement systems?

Recommendations Submitted by Researchers and Safety Experts That Are Not Included in the Proposed Rule

Researchers and safety experts who commented on the drafts of the proposed rule submitted four recommendations regarding the technical requirements for wheelchair securement systems that are not included in the proposed rule.  Their recommendations are summarized below.

1. SAE Recommended Practice J2249, Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint Systems for Use in Motor Vehicles (June 9, 1999)

Researchers and safety experts recommended that front facing wheelchair securement systems comply with SAE Recommended Practice J2249, Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint Systems for Use in Motor Vehicles (June 9, 1999).18 SAE Recommended Practice J2249 specifies design requirements, performance requirements, and test methods for wheelchair tiedown and occupant restraint systems for use in motor vehicles, and includes requirements for product marking and labeling and manufacturer’s instructions to installers and users.

2. Wheelchair Securement Systems in Small Vehicles

Researchers and safety experts recommended that rear facing wheelchair securement systems not be permitted in small vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 30,000 pounds because current wheelchair securement systems have not been designed and tested to secure rear facing wheelchairs in small vehicles and to withstand the high “g” loads generated on wheelchairs and their occupants in a small vehicle by a frontal collision.  They also recommended that the 5,000 pounds minimum design force specified in the 1991 guidelines for small vehicles be increased for forward facing wheelchair securement systems.

3. Movement Under Emergency Driving Conditions

Researchers and safety experts recommended that performance specifications and test methods be established for wheelchair securement systems to limit movement of an occupied wheelchair under emergency driving conditions, such as maximum braking and rapid turning.

4. Rear Facing Compartmentalization

Researchers and safety experts recommended that “rear facing compartmentalization” be permitted in large vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 30,000 pounds or more, especially bus rapid transit vehicles.  “Rear facing compartmentalization” is used in Europe and Canada.  As explained by the researchers and safety experts, in “rear facing compartmentalization” the wheelchair occupant backs as close as possible to a rear-facing padded excursion barrier and there is a means to prevent the wheelchair from tipping into the aisle.  “Rear facing compartmentalization” assumes that the wheelchair has brakes which are functioning and that the friction between the wheelchair wheels and the floor is high enough to prevent sliding.  “Rear facing compartmentalization” does not require the attachment of wheelchair securement systems to the wheelchair. Researchers and safety experts also recommended that seat belts and shoulder belts should not be required where “rear facing compartmentalization” is permitted in large vehicles.

Question 15:  Comments are requested on whether any of the above recommendations should be included in a subsequent rulemaking.

Automated Stop and Route Announcements

Current Requirements

The 1991 guidelines require buses that are more than 22 feet in length and operate in fixed route systems to provide public address systems for announcing stops.19  The Department of Transportation regulations require stops and routes to be announced.20  These requirements apply to both public transit agencies and private transit operators.  Failure to announce stops and routes is a frequent source of complaints to the Department of Transportation and lawsuits against public transit agencies.

Proposed Rule

Public transit agencies are increasingly deploying intelligent transportation system technologies that enable automated stop and route announcements.  Automated announcements provide standardized messages and result in increased compliance with current regulatory requirements.

The drafts of the proposed rule considered requiring public transit agencies to provide automated stop and route announcements on buses that are more than 22 feet in length and operate in fixed route systems.  The American Public Transportation Association commented that the cost of providing automated announcements would be burdensome for small public transit agencies, and recommended that only large public transit agencies that operate 100 or more buses in peak service be required to provide automated announcements.

T203.13 requires large public transit agencies that operate 100 or more buses in annual maximum service in fixed route systems, as reported in the National Transit Database, to provide automated stop and route announcements on buses that are more than 22 feet in length and operate in fixed route systems.

The Access Board prepared a report to estimate the costs of this proposed change.  The report is available on the Access Board’s website at: http://www.access-board.gov/transit/.  According to the National Transit Database, 87 public transit agencies operate 100 or more buses in annual maximum service in fixed route systems.  More than 90 percent of these public transit agencies currently provide automated stop and route announcements on buses.  The report assumes that the public transit agencies will continue to provide automated announcements on buses in the future, and will not incur any additional costs as a result of the requiring automated announcements.

Only 7 public transit agencies that operate 100 or more buses in annual maximum service in fixed route systems do not currently provide automated stop and route announcements on buses.  The total estimated costs of requiring automated announcements for the 7 public transit agencies are presented below.  The cost estimates include one-time costs to equip new buses and to set-up backend systems for implementing automated announcements, and on-going maintenance and operation costs for the bus equipment and backend systems.  The low cost and high cost scenarios account for variables that can affect the costs.

CostsPresent Value (3%)*Present Value (7%)*
* Present value is based on discount rates in OMB Circular No. A-94.
Low Cost Scenario
Total Costs Over 12 Year Bus Replacement Cycle $9,548,280 $8,027,897 $6,534,112
Annualized Costs $795,690 $668,991 $544,509
High Cost Scenario
Total Costs Over 12 Year Bus Replacement Cycle $19,678,022 $16,809,905 $13,970,121
Annualized Costs $1,639,835 $1,400,825 $1,164,767

Question 16:  Comments are requested on the report estimating the costs of requiring automated stop and route announcements, including the data and assumptions in the report.

Forty (40) of the public transit agencies that operate 100 or more buses in annual maximum service in fixed route systems contract with private entities to operate some or all of the buses.  The Department of Transportation regulations require a private entity that acquires vehicles to operate in a fixed route system under contract with a public transit agency to comply with the accessibility standards applicable to the public transit agency.21 The report estimating the costs of requiring automated stop and route announcements identifies the 40 public transit agencies that contract with private entities to operate buses in their fixed route systems, and the private entities that operate the buses.  These private entities would have to comply with T203.13 if they acquire buses to operate in fixed route systems under contract with the public transit agencies.  These private entities would not be affected by T203.13 if the public transit agencies provide the buses to the private entities to operate, of if the private entities deploy buses from their existing fleets to operate in the fixed route systems under contract with the public transit agencies.  Information is not available on whether any of the private entities that contract with the public transit agencies acquire buses to operate in fixed route systems under contract with the public transit agencies.

Question 17:  Private entities that contract with public transit agencies operating 100 or more buses in annual maximum service in fixed route systems and acquire buses to operate in the fixed route systems under contract with the public transit agencies, are requested to provide information on the number of buses acquired on an annual basis for operation in the fixed route systems under contract with the public transit agencies, and whether the buses provide automated stop and route announcements.

For public transit agencies that have invested in intelligent transportation system technologies, the incremental cost of providing automated stop and route announcements is relatively low compared to public transit agencies that do not invest in such technologies.  The Access Board is considering as an alternative requiring only public transit agencies that have invested in intelligent transportation system technologies to provide automated announcements.  Under this alternative, large public transit agencies that have not invested in intelligent transportation system technologies would not be required to do so in order to provide automated announcements.  Small public transit agencies that have invested in intelligent transportation system technologies would be required to provide automated announcements, and many of these public transit agencies currently provide automated announcements. The requirement to provide automated announcements would apply only to newly acquired buses.  Existing buses would not be required to provide automated announcements.

Question 18:  Comments are requested on whether only public transit agencies that have invested in intelligent transportation system technologies should be required to provide automated stop and route announcements.

T704.1 requires automated stop and route announcements to use recorded or digitized human speech.  T704.2 requires the stop announcements to be audible within the vehicle, and T704.3 requires the route announcements to be audible at boarding and alighting areas.  T704.2 also requires signs within the bus to display stops.

Question 19:  Comments are requested on whether there are appropriate standards for audio quality that should be referenced in T704.1 or recommended in advisory information.

Question 20:  Comments are requested on whether intelligent transportation system technologies currently in use have the capability to communicate stop and route information to passengers through personal communications devices (e.g., text messaging), in addition to audible and visible announcements through speakers and signs.  If intelligent transportation system technologies do not have this capability, are there other technologies that can communicate stop and route information to passengers through personal communications devices (e.g., text messaging)? Comments are requested on the costs and benefits of communicating stop and route information to passengers through personal communications devices.