MR. LAURIDSEN: The Passenger Vessel Association – the national trade association representing U.S.-flag passenger vessels of all sizes and types – is pleased to appear before the Access Board yet again to comment on the development of guidelines for construction and alteration of passenger vessels to enhance access for persons with disabilities. This is our third appearance before you this year. We are committed to working with you to ensure the development of reasonable and workable accessibility guidelines.
I was pleased to spend several days with many of you last month in Alaska and California. We were especially glad that your delegation to Alaska visited vessels and facilities of PVA Member Allen Marine Tours in Ketchikan and Juneau and that you had the experience of a whalewatching cruise on the 150-passenger St. Aquilina. In California, all of you had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Ray Lyman of PVA Member Catalina Express and to see the 75-passenger AquaLink in the waters of Rainbow Harbor.
A DIVERSE U.S. PASSENGER FLEET
As I speak, my PowerPoint display will highlight photos of a number of vessels. The purpose is to impress upon you the tremendous diversity of types, sizes, and functions of vessels just within the membership of the Passenger Vessel Association, not to mention within the passenger vessel industry as a whole. I cannot emphasize too strongly this diversity. Too often, people use the term “cruise ship rule” to refer to your undertaking. While massive cruise ships are certainly affected (and there are some cruise ship operators in the PVA membership), the vast number of vessels covered by this rulemaking includes passenger-only ferries, car ferries, dinner boats, sightseeing vessels, whalewatching boats, windjammers, water taxis, smaller overnight coastal cruise vessels, and even amphibious craft.
My photos give you only a hint of the diversity of the U.S.-flagged passenger vessel industry. There is nothing like coming on board a passenger vessel -- especially one that is underway -- to learn firsthand about that diversity and the maritime challenges that face a small passenger vessel operator. As a Board, you have just “scratched the surface” in seeing and riding vessels.
We invite you to expand your knowledge and visit a wider range of passenger vessels in the coming weeks and months. PVA will work with the Access Board to schedule visits to vessels on the Potomac River or in Annapolis Harbor when you have your next meeting in Washington, D.C.
KEEP THE LARGE VESSEL/SMALL VESSEL DISTINCTION
Your rulemaking efforts to date have proposed a delineation point between “large” and “small” vessels. In your Federal Register notices of November 26 of last year, you issued draft guidelines for “large” vessels, and you defined that term as a vessel having a capacity for more than 150 passengers or overnight accommodations for more than 49 passengers.
You also issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for “small” vessels, that is, any passenger vessel with passenger capacities below the threshold for “large” vessels.
PVA supports this bifurcation of the rulemaking process. In fact, we request you to concentrate current efforts for the “large” vessel category and to proceed cautiously with regard to “small” vessels. The marine environment is a challenging one for adoption of accessibility guidelines, and the numerous types of smaller vessels increase those challenges dramatically.
The “more than 150 passengers” line of demarcation makes sense. It follows a longstanding “regulatory break” established by the Coast Guard for safety and manning requirements. Vessels authorized to carry more than 150 passengers have additional safety and manning rules, over and above the equivalent rules for vessels with a passenger capacity below this threshold. More recently, the Coast Guard chose the “more than 150 passengers” threshold as a standard under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002; every vessel with a passenger capacity above this point must have a Coast Guard-approved maritime security plan.
It only makes sense for the Access Board to choose a traditional “regulatory break point” long used by the Coast Guard. Setting up a new or different threshold will only cause confusion for vessel designers, builders, and operators.
PROCEED WITH LARGER VESSELS; GO SLOW ON SMALLER VESSELS
I believe that you have come to realize that as vessels get smaller, the options for designing accessible features become exponentially more limited and challenging.
This was clearly illustrated at your hearing in January by the dramatic PowerPoint presentation made by our member Mr. Bob Bekoff of Water Taxi of Fort Lauderdale. Mr. Bekoff superimposed outlines of vessel hull cross sections on one another. He demonstrated that as the length of a vessel is reduced, there are corresponding reductions in the beam (width) of the vessel as well. The result is not only a lower passenger capacity, but also noticeably less square footage available for program areas, aisle widths, and spaces for transfer devices. Why is this significant to the operator of a small passenger vessel? It is important because the operator needs the vessel to be able to produce revenue by accommodating a certain number of passengers. If the operator loses too much revenue-generating capacity because of the amount of space reserved for accessibility functions (path of travel, heads, etc.), the viability of the small passenger vessel as a commercial enterprise may be severely jeopardized.
I think you are finding that the Access Board’s challenge of developing accessibility guidelines for “small” vessels is much more daunting than for “large” vessels. Your own Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee recognized this in its recommendations to you. I think you acknowledged this fact when you chose to have two separate Federal Register items last November. In that Federal Register notice, you posed questions about four different options for guidelines for “small” passenger vessels. PVA is not sure that any of the four approaches offers an ideal way to go. However, we generally we tend to support the recommendations of the Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee. Certainly, we disagree vehemently with Option 1 (apply the “large” passenger vessel guidelines to “small” vessels). We also oppose Option 4 (create a new passenger capacity threshold lower than 150 and apply the “large” passenger vessel guidelines to vessels with a capacity above this new threshold).
During and after your vessel inspection trips to Alaska and California last month, several of you shared with me your feelings that much more examination of “small” vessels needs to be undertaken to do the best job in coming up with workable guidelines. Also, to the best of our knowledge, with the exception of the four of you who last month rode on Allen Marine’s St. Aquilina, no current member of the Access Board has been on board a “small” passenger vessel in your official capacity.
For all these reasons, PVA strongly recommends that you continue your work on the “large” vessel rulemaking and concentrate your attention and your staff resources on that rulemaking only. At the same time, you should hold in abeyance additional action of the “small” vessel effort until the guidelines for “large” vessels are developed and further study of the unique challenges presented by “small” vessels is completed.
Let all of us, government and private sector together, focus our efforts on finishing the “large” vessel rule. When we have a meaningful, workable set of guidelines for “large” vessels, then we can turn our attention to “small” vessels. Let’s make sure we “get it right” and “get it done.”
LARGE VESSELS ARE A LARGE NUMBER
Ascertaining the number of “large” passenger vessels under the U.S. flag can be a frustrating exercise and the results may not be precise. Complicating the effort is the fact that the Access Board’s definitions of “small” and “large” passenger vessel do not comport with definitions used in the United States Code.
According to Coast Guard data, there are just below 6,000 passenger vessels of less than 100 gross tons. The majority, but by no means all, of this number would be considered to be “small” passenger vessels under the Access Board’s use of the word.
In addition, according to the Coast Guard, there are a few hundred U.S. Code “passenger vessels.” Thus, the current universe of U.S.-flagged passenger vessels (“large” and “small” according to the Access Board’s criteria) offering some form of commercial service numbers between 6,000 and 7,000.
PVA estimates that approximately 10 percent of these vessels are “large” passenger vessels as defined by the Access Board (that is, carrying more than 150 passengers). We can tell this because (1) PVA has issued 659 Security Certificates to members (and each certificate represents a vessel carrying more than 150 passengers); and (2) we know of some non-PVA entities that operate “large” passenger vessels (for example, state-run ferries in Texas and Virginia).
We offer these numbers to reassure you that by going forward with the “large” passenger vessel rule, the Access Board will be developing guidelines that will affect a significant number of passengers who ride
U.S.-flag passenger vessels.
VOLPE REPORT AND THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE PASSENGER VESSEL ACCESS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
It seems to us that your proposed rule has unfortunately given short shrift to two excellent prior work products that you, the Access Board, sponsored and that would be highly useful in this process.
In 1996, the Access Board jointly commissioned a comprehensive report by the John Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This research institution is affiliated with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The report is entitled “Access for Persons with Disabilities to Passenger Vessels and Shore Facilities.”
The Volpe Center report not only provides excellent insight into the nature of the domestic passenger vessel industry, it does a good job of highlighting which access features will be the most challenging for vessel operators. It also provides an excellent methodology for calculating the economic costs of accessibility guidelines as they apply to passenger vessels.
Although the Volpe Center’s report is a part of your docket, it seems to us that its observations and conclusions need to be given more attention, particularly as it addresses “small” passenger vessels. We believe that Access Board members should familiarize themselves with it. The quality of the analysis by the Volpe Center is outstanding; in fact, the Access Board recently commissioned the Volpe Center to produce a study of how coamings on passenger vessels might be minimized to increase accessibility.
The methodology used in the Volpe Center report remains as strong now as it was when it the document was written, but its statistics are becoming a bit dated. As the Access Board proceeds with its required economic analysis of this rulemaking, PVA recommends that you employ the Volpe Center to use its methodology to update the results of the 1996 report.
Also, PVA commends to your attention the recommendations of the Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee submitted to the Access Board in the year 2000. The Advisory Committee was your own creation. Its 24 members were evenly distributed between individuals from the disability community and the maritime industry. Following your charge, these individuals undertook intense study and work spanning three years.
We believe that the Access Board should think long and hard before you depart from the Advisory Committee’s suggestions, and then only if the reason for doing so can be documented as most compelling and unassailable.
One example of where your proposed rule departs from the recommendations of the Advisory Committee has to do with vertical access for passenger vessels.
The biggest challenge for new vessel construction and especially alteration to existing vessels is vertical access (elevators and lifts).
This is particularly true for elevators because they are heavy and can be located only in certain portions of the vessel. An improperly placed elevator will jeopardize the stability of the vessel, thus creating an unacceptable safety hazard. Even a properly placed elevator may destabilize a smaller vessel. An elevator’s weight will either decrease the vessel’s speed or impose a need for more powerful (and more expensive) propulsion systems. It may also reduce fuel efficiency (thereby increasing operating costs). Its placement may take away space that could otherwise be devoted to customer amenities or revenue-generating activities.
A lift may not have the same weight considerations as an elevator, but its placement alongside stairs presents its own space challenges.
The Volpe Report (page 2) confirms that, “Multi-deck access for wheelchairs is the critical issue, from the standpoints of cost, safety, and operations.”
The Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee’s recommendations also took note of the challenges relating to vertical access. The general recommendation is for vertical access on larger passenger vessels with certain exceptions. Those exceptions include: (1) no vertical access requirement for a vessel with less than three decks or one with decks that measure less than 3,000 square feet per deck; I believe that this exception is equivalent to one found in ADAAG for buildings; (2) no requirement for vertical access for a high speed ferry if all passenger amenities are offered on a fully accessible deck; and (3) no requirement for vertical access to any deck of less than 300 square feet.
Your proposed rule departs from the vertical access recommendations of the Advisory Committee in several respects. Yet the Access Board offers no justification for casting aside the three-year work of the Advisory Committee.
The Passenger Vessel Association will submit detailed written comments to your docket later this week. Today, I want to thank you for your attention and your interest in the U.S.-flag passenger vessel industry.
To summarize our points today:
Thank you for your courtesy and attention.
MR. [GARY] TALBOT [BOARD MEMBER]: Pete, I got a question for you. In your comments you stated for us to focus on large vessel guidelines and do not pursue the smaller vessels at this time, put those off, get the larger vessels, that line completed and go back and revisit that. I guess, I have a question for you.
Would it make sense on the smaller vessels if we can identify maybe four big issues?
For me, guessing, on main program access, the head, getting off. Would it make sense for us on the smaller vessels to just pair it down, focus on something that small so we would not have to take it completely off the plate and maybe revisit it at a later date to get more indepth?
MR. LAURIDSEN: Mr. Chairman, I think it would depend on the four issues.
Again, when you deal with small vessels with dealing with dimension, limitations, we are dealing with calling on and off issues. So I think I think if we looked at four issues you are essentially bifurcating and maybe that is durable.
I certainly was considering that is not what we proposed but I'm willing to get close on it for a while and continue the discussion.
MR. TALBOT: Thank you.