Office of Technical and Information Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Hornblower Cruises and Events, a member of the Passenger Vessel Association, submits these comments regarding your efforts to develop accessibility guidelines for passenger vessels, as published in the Federal Register of November 26, 2004. Please include these comments in the official record of both of your dockets as well as the corresponding U.S. Department of Transportation Docket.
Hornblower Cruises and Events (HCE) is a 25 year old excursion vessel operator offering three primary services on the protected waters of California’s bays to its guests: Group Charters, Individual Dining Cruises (IDC’s) and Harbor Cruises/Whale Watching. Hornblower operates 30 vessels in six (6) different port areas in California. Vessel sizes range from small passenger vessels regulated under 46 CFR Subchapter T and Subchapter K, up to larger passenger vessels regulated under Subchapter H. Passenger capacities range from 49 (Subchapter T) to over 150 (Subchapter K) to 2000 passengers (Subchapter H). In San Diego and Los Angeles, we frequently take passengers beyond the Bay into the Pacific Ocean for whale watching, eco-tours and transport to other destinations. The majority of our operations consist of a 3-4 hour sailing tours of the respective Bay with dinner and entertainment on board. Frequently, our vessels depart and return to the same dock. Some operations, however, do require remote landings to embark and debark passengers, which facilities are not controlled by our company.
The floating and fixed docks providing access to our vessels, which are controlled and/or leased by our company, range from wooden marina docks (with 12 – 14” of freeboard within a protected marina berth) to concrete piers (set at 12.67’ above mean low water exposed to wave action from the Bay). The floating landing facilities are subject to tidal fluctuations ranging from 8 to 10 feet. All of our landing facilities are leased from either public Port authorities, or from private landlords. Any modifications to the facilities must be approved by our landlords, before obtaining any required permits from the local building inspector.
Our company has strived to provide quality service to the disabled community for the last 25 years. On a basic service level we train and provide enough crew on each vessel to assist all clients requiring any type of assistance while on and off our vessels.
Our two large Subchapter H passenger vessels are equipped with elevators to meet vertical access requirements. Designing accessibility into larger vessels is considerably less difficult than for smaller vessels. For our Subchapter K vessels we maintain boarding ramps at limited slopes and accommodate disabled passengers with crew assistance. Our smaller Subchapter T vessels present the most challenging environment in which to provide access to passengers with disabilities. These vessels tend to have small boarding hatches/areas, with limited on board passageways, and problematic stairs and thresholds between decks and to exterior areas. Our crews provide the necessary assistance to disabled passengers, but the small physical size of the vessel and its interior layout present considerable and unique challenges far more substantial than on our larger vessels.
We have modified several pier side ramps (in different Ports) to provide vessel access consistent with the provisions of local access design guidelines. In San Francisco, the dock modifications required the purchase and installation of a 95 foot, custom made aluminum gangway and approximately 25 feet of additional ramping on a floating barge. The freeboard of the barge is set to provide access to the San Francisco Belle, which in turn limits access by our other vessels without changing the freeboard. This system was found acceptable by the Port of San Francisco which reviewed the proposal under its Access Guidelines.
In San Diego, access to our largest vessel was accomplished through the use of an electronic lift which raises or lowers an intermediate platform to accommodate the tidal range. The system is operated manually by our crew before guests arrive. While the system was designed for our flagship vessel, it has been used to provide access to one (1) other vessel with a similar freeboard. The system does not provide access to all of our fleet, and other ramping systems must be provided, as a result.
In greater Los Angeles and in Berkeley, our fleet operates from privately owned docking facilities. A Board requirement to provide at least one wheel chair accessible ramp in these locations will actually decrease the number of vessels we can accommodate under our existing leases, as a portion of the water area will have to be dedicated to a ramping system limiting the width of a vessel slip.
We are aware that the Passenger Vessel Association has been in frequent contact with the Access Board regarding this rulemaking, including testifying at public hearings three times in 2005. We support the following points that PVA has stressed in its comments:
Thank you for this opportunity to participate in your rulemaking process.
Terry A. MacRae
President and CEO
Hornblower Cruises and Events