MR. LAURIDSEN: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be here, distinguished members of the Access Board. I am Peter Lauridsen, and I am here representing the Passenger Vessel Association to Domestic Trade Association for the U.S.-flagged, U.S. Coast Guard inspected domestic fleet. I have a prepared statement, which I have passed out in order of the equitable, since Ray has used a good bit of time, and I think very profitably so, I will try to summarize rather than read and maybe we can make up a little bit of time.
My background, you have mentioned, my background was a career in Coast Guard marine safety, retiring in 1988. Since then I have been working with the domestic passenger vessel industry, i.e., the Passenger Vessel Association, and it has been a rewarding second career.
I will start off by reading and then start to summarize.
"PVA has worked with the Access Board in the rule-making process from the beginning, and we remain committed to this process. PVA has a deep interest in providing guidance to passenger vessel owners as to how they can achieve accessibility on their vessels to enable them to better serve customers with disabilities. We want this rule-making to result in reasonable and realistic guidelines that recognize the diversity of small passenger vessels and enhance our customers' ability to enjoy the services and amenities offered by the domestic passenger fleet.
"Our efforts have included and will include representation on your Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee. Individuals from four PVA member companies served on that group.
"Making PVA vessels available for the Access Board and its staff to visit in places such as Seattle, Maine, New Orleans and this week, in Alaska and Southern California," and we will continue to do that wherever the opportunity presents itself.
Presentations by several PVA members, first the January hearing and now at this hearing and we will again make a presentation at the July hearing.
Detailed written comments will be submitted to your dockets on the draft guidelines for large passenger vessels and the advance notice of proposed rule-making for accessibility guidelines for small passenger vessels.
And we are compiling economic and statistical information on domestic U.S. passenger vessel industry, which will be submitted to you later this summer. There is a lag time in compilation, and I hope it will be considered even though we may miss the comment closing period. I believe it will be very valuable information.
Today I want to emphasize four points. One, most vessels to be affected by your guidelines are actually small vessels. And I will come back to that in a second. Providing access in the marine and aquatic environments is more challenging than doing so on landside sites. We've already seen some of that.
Number 3, in many instances, the PVA vessel operates from a dock or facility owned or controlled by some other entity.
And lastly, as vessels get smaller, options for designing accessible features become exponentially more limited.
I would like to go back to Point 1. Most vessels to be affected by your guidelines are actually small vessels. Even your large vessel guidelines apply to essentially small vessels. I am not talking about the regulatory definition. We have in our domestic fleet a handful of vessels that are passenger -- that are cruise-type vessels, large vessels. Everything else, save some state ferries and so forth, tend to be small vessels, some carrying up to a thousand passengers. So they're definitely large under your categorization. But they are relatively small in dimension. And it's constrained by many factors, and let me touch on that.
The overwhelming numbers of vessels and passengers that will be affected by your guidelines are not on oceangoing vessels, so we want to reemphasize, time and time again, that domestic fleet tends to be small vessels even when considered under your large guidelines.
Providing access in the marine and aquatic environment is more challenging than doing so on landside sites. Your delegation that went to Alaska saw the challenges of high tides, on and off. We didn't really feel the motion of the ocean. It was -- we traveled on a rather large vessel, but naval architects and others will tell you there are six, at least six degrees of motion, side, roll, pitch, heave and so forth. We did experience a touch of that on a whale-watch vessel, but again, by no stretch of the imagination were we exposed to conditions that might ordinarily be -- that you must design for. Hopefully you do not experience.
In addition to the tidal range you saw, if you were to live on the Ohio River, the Ohio River has gone through several flood stages this year, and the water level can change up to 30 feet during an operating season. Most of you, or some of you, know Alan Bernstein who operates dinner cruise vessels there in the waterside restaurant. The water there can rise a foot or more an hour when the oncoming flood is -- or when the flood stage is at its peak.
Those are issues that have to be dealt with in the on/off as well as the environmental motions derived from the water.
Third, in many instances the PVA vessel operates from a dock or facility owned or controlled by some other entity. We have focused on on/off issues and there is only so much that the vessel can do to ease that on/off. Much of the responsibility has to fall shore side, particularly when you saw in Ray's presentation that a great -- the level of the landside is controlled in great measure by, you know, rock jetties or just topography. If you don't control that landside, you are at the mercy or at the pleasure of whoever controls that.
In many cases we operate from areas where there is nobody in control, whether it be river sides or in some of our small vessels we dock -- we don't dock, we land on beaches in Alaska, in the Caribbean and so forth.
So the challenge sometimes is not totally within the power of the owner of the vessel to control, and in many cases we find ourselves in accommodation rather than accessibility. And I think you saw some of that accommodation in Alaska.
Lastly, as vessels get smaller, options for designing accessible features become exponentially more limited. For those of you -- and I believe everyone was there for the hearing in Washington in January, Bob Bekoff superimposed on a vessel a smaller and smaller and smaller vessel and showed how as length of the vessel decreased, the beam decreased, the amount of room available for problematic features decreased and accessibility became more complicated. And it's particularly true in cases of water taxis, Aqua Bus and other small vessels.
Sometimes the question comes up, why don't you build it bigger. I think that you will hear that there are many things, not only from us, but others, that constrain the size of the vessel that you can build. Sometimes it's the depth of the water. Sometimes it's the air clearance. Sometimes it's the width of the dock. Sometimes it's justplain depth of the water of the area you're trying to service. So you have many features in addition to economics and in addition to profitability that tend to define the envelope within which the vessel must operate. And when it becomes small, accessibility becomes more difficult and we tend more towards accommodation.
That doesn't mean that we don't want to be accessible. For those of you who went aboard our whale-watch vessels in Alaska, I think you were favorably impressed by the operator and what he has done to make his vessels accessible. I would point out that those vessels under Coast Guard regulations are permitted to carry 150 passengers. Allen Marine, for their own purposes, limited to 121 that they can provide those additional operating areas of accessibility.
I don't know whether you charge that off as an initial capital cost of providing access or somehow it's a lost opportunity for additional revenue because you have the space but you choose not to allot it to passengers, you reserve it for accessibility. So there are costs and they're going to try to identify those for you.
One other aspect in regard to this smallness or size is -- and I think you have heard it in January and you will hear it now and you will hear it again. And I mentioned it in the opening statement. Diversity. There is a tremendous diversity in the 6- or 7,000 vessels in the Coast Guard inspected passenger vessel industry.
The service ranges widely from ferries to excursion to dinner cruise to ecotourism to operating ducks and amphibious vehicles to sail vehicles. They operate in all different types of water, exposed water, partially protected and protected waters, rivers, streams, so forth. Each tends to present another variable in the design and operation of the vessel. And beyond that, most of the vessels built for the domestic fleet are individually designed and built for individual owners to serve specific purposes. There are relatively few classes of vessels. There are no production models, per se, where you can crank out about 50 or 60 of something other than maybe a water taxi. So with this tremendous variability, there are an unknown number of factors that may be affected by accessibility, or accessibility may affect an unknown number of factors.
I know that you want some specificity on where we face those challenges, and what we are currently doing, we are polling our members, individually interviewing them and asking them what they perceive as the most challenging aspect of providing accessibility. And from that, hopefully we can start to categorize this so that we don't have a hundred variables, but maybe we can categorize it down to a few and we can identify them and maybe we can give you additional guidance.
With that, I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you. Our vessels are always available to you. You need to do no more than call our Washington headquarters and our members stand ready to demonstrate what they do, how they do it and why they do it. They will tell you, serving everybody is good business. And as I made the mistake of earlier this week, I identified myself with the geriatric generation. I would like to take that back, but I am part of the geriatric generation and accessibility is good for us too.
Thank you very much, and I would be happy to answer any questions.
MR. [GARY] TALBOT [BOARD MEMBER]: Pete, thank you very much. I am really pleased to hear that you are going to pulltogether hopefully a short list of what your organization thinks are the major issues especially relative to the proposed rule so that we have a better understanding of where a conflict might be, whether it's ramp angle, entry and egress of the boat itself, main program access, sill heights, whatever those issues are, I think it would be very helpful to the Board so that we know exactly where the industry's issues are relative to our proposed rule.
MR. LAURIDSEN: And we see ourselves in partnership with you. It's not your problem solved. It's our problem solved, and we stand ready to do that.
MR. TALBOT: And I think that's a great statement because I know after what we saw from going up to Alaska with you in the last few days, there's some tremendous advancements that have been made. The whale-watching vessel was an incredible example of what the possibilities really are, even in an environment that has incredible tidal changes for height of water. It was very, very impressive. So we look forward to working with you in the future. That's for sure. Thank you.
MR. LAURIDSEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. [PHILIP] PEARCE [BOARD MEMBER]: The question that I have is I kind of got the impression from you that maybe -- and correct me if I am wrong about this, that maybe there's a feeling that people really want to accommodate, but there are limits to their ability to accommodate. And what I would ask you about that to comment on is, how much of it is just lack of opportunity or ability to accommodate or to provide accessibility, and how much of it is that the industry, up to certain point and maybe up to recently, has not necessarily designed those features in, and as your industry begins to become more and more aware that those are features that are going to be required, that their designs change and it just becomes a matter of course that those things are designed in.
Because I know in the built environment, that's one of the things we've seen, that before these rules really came down, nobody really thought about it much, but as it became more and more apparent that they were going to have to think about it, the designs changed to make it so it was a much more possible thing. So I would like to have your comments on it.
MR. LAURIDSEN: We became aware of the law about the time of its passage, for some reason we weren't aware of it progressing through Congress. Maybe our antennae were not properly tuned. The initial reaction was one of great concern. As your -- as ADA passed, the domestic passenger vessel industry was going through a boom of sort where there was an explosion, unfortunate term, a plethora of river boat gaming vessels being built.
It became apparent that while there were no guidelines, there certainly was an expectation, and if you run a gaming boat, you want to get people on, you want to get them off. At the start those designers went out and got representatives from the community of persons with disabilities and asked for recommendations even though there weren't any guidelines.
Your chair indicated the whale-watch vessel. As we toured that vessel, they were constantly talking about how SAIL, Southeast Alaska, Independent Living, had advised them on changes to their vessel and how they trained their crew members.
So I think there has been a realization, even absent guidelines, that there is a need beyond maybe readily achievable to reach out and make some effort.
You will probably hear from the naval architect who is a member of ours who sat on the advisory committee, and I am not trying to steal his thunder, but I think the naval architecture community is aware of the need for accessibility. They're aware of the absence of marine-oriented guidelines, and to the best of their ability will use ADAG or the principles they see in ADAG.
We're not starting from ground zero. There has been progress, but we'll be the first to tell you we would love to have guidelines out there so we're out of this gray area and in a protected area so when somebody says, "Are you accessible," or "Have you met a performance standard," we can say yes, and we can point to something. And right now we cannot. Hopefully that was an answer. I got a little long-winded.
MS. [PAMELA] DORWARTH [BOARD MEMBER]: I wanted to add to that. Inside building and construction. But I found recently, I would say in the last two years, that recent, that people that produce the products for the ramping and all that have more vessels, come up with some fantastic things that we need to get out there and get to you all. And we hope that we can work on that together.
MR. LAURIDSEN: We're more than happy to do it. As a matter of fact, when we were in Alaska, we saw a coating that amazed all of us. And I'm not sure what it was, but that's something that we need to share amongst our members, because the coating on the ramp was visibly better than most of us had ever experienced before. But I appreciate the comments. That sharing of information is how we can expedite this process in finding that, if not accessibility, and we hope accessibility, the accommodation which is something somewhat short because maybe there are constraints that we cannot design around.
MR. TALBOT: Thank you very much. We really appreciate it, Pete.