1666 K Street, N.W., 11th Floor Washington, DC 20006 Phone (202) 496-4800 FAX (202) 496-4324
June 11, 2007
Office of Technical and Informational Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street, N.W., Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
RE: Comments to Access Board Docket Number 2007-1
Madam Chair and Members of the Board:
On behalf of the more than 1,500 member organizations of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), I write to provide comment on the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board’s (the Board) Draft Revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines for Buses and Vans, published April 11, 2007, at 72 FR 18179.
APTA is a non-profit international trade association of more than 1,500 public and private member organizations, including transit systems; planning, design, construction and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; and state associations and departments of transportation. More than ninety percent of Americans who use public transportation are served by APTA member transit systems.
APTA appreciates the Board’s efforts to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act and provide accessibility for all. Through your efforts, persons with disabilities have consistent access to all manner of public facilities that was unheard of before the ADA. We also appreciate the Board’s history of partnership not only with persons with disabilities but with the various industries responsible for providing that access, and the comprehensive record of thorough research that has long been the hallmark of the Board’s well-respected efforts. As discussed below, Board personnel participate fully in APTA’s accessibility standards development process, helping vehicle manufacturers, service providers, and persons with disabilities reach consensus on ever-evolving standards to ensure continued and improved accessibility. The Board’s current effort to gather public comment on these proposals prior to drafting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is commendable and consistent with your history of cooperation and consensus building. It is in this spirit of cooperation that we offer the following comments and offer our services to assist in improving access to transit services for persons with disabilities by conducting research, providing information, or otherwise assisting in the Board’s continuing efforts.
We believe the Board should note APTA’s ongoing work on access standards development now underway. The standard setting process allows full and free participation of interested parties, incorporates extensive vetting of proposals to ensure the kind of issues raised throughout our comments are answered in a consensus setting, and ensures the standards do not outstrip or lag behind the industry’s ability to meet them. Access Board staff are currently participating at all levels of the APTA Accessibility Standards program, and their involvement is constructive and welcome. As an alternative to continuing the rulemaking process, the Board could and should continue to participate and support the setting of industry standards to address its perceptions of shortcomings in the current accessibility rules.
The Proposed Changes are Premature
Despite the Board’s long history of careful research, we believe the proposed changes are insufficiently supported by technical research. While we appreciate the Board conducting a number of small group meetings prior to releasing the draft revisions, these sessions cannot replace the research required to demonstrate changes are required, examine the feasibility of such changes, and determine the cost impacts of such changes. An example of this shortcoming is the proposed change to a 1:8 slope for ramps. The Board has not released documentation or study materials demonstrating the long-existing 1:4 slope has become problematic, why a 1:8 slope would be acceptable, or if a 1:8 slope would be at all feasible given the width of existing streets, sidewalks, and other bus stop locations, as well as the simple fact that under ideal circumstances, a ramp at least eight feet long would be required to meet this standard in a typical transit bus (and necessarily interfere with axle design, ramp stowage, and other design aspects since the ramp would be almost as long as the bus is wide or, if folded, twice as tall in stowage as today’s ramps). These are issues that necessarily precede a discussion with industry of whether such a ramp could even be incorporated into bus designs. The Board should make the documentation it relies on in crafting its proposals clear to the public to facilitate well-reasoned, useful comments. There is no room for supposition or guesswork in crafting a rule likely to endure for many years to come and to affect so many transit riders.
We believe the combined impact of the proposed changes would be of such a magnitude to require assessment under the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, 2 USC 1532 and Executive Order 13132. These assessments, in turn, must be released to the public in any subsequent rulemaking. To comply with these legal requirements and ensure a viable solution, the Board should conduct a public review to identify the existence and magnitude of shortcomings that may exist in the current standards, analyze whether adjustments to operating practices, procedures, or training could sufficiently address identified shortcomings, then canvass the industry to determine if technological or equipment solutions are or can be expected to become available in the foreseeable future, and the likely costs of these solutions. It is the result of such research and analysis that should be part of an announcement such as this one, and subjected to public comment.
The Access Standards for Transportation Vehicles Should Not Exceed Those for Architectural Standards
It would be of little use to a person with disabilities to be able to board a public transit vehicle with a 36” clear path when the compliant building the person is going to need only provide 32” doorways. Does or will the Board propose to further modify the recently adopted architectural standards and the public rights-of-way (PROW) guidelines currently under development, as well as those applicable to buses and vans? If so, the changes should be concurrent (with a full concurrent public comment opportunity) to avoid unnecessary and unhelpful cost impacts on public transportation providers prior to implementation of similar changes in buildings, other public accommodations, and those PROW. Absent changes to the architectural and PROW standards, we believe that, at the conclusion of the careful study and analysis recommended above, the Board will conclude that the minimal incremental improvements to accessibility, if any, that would result from the proposed changes would be overwhelmed by the associated costs. The net effect is likely to be less transportation availability for persons with or without disabilities.
Any Physical Changes Required Should Be Prospective Only
As proposed, section 1192.21(a) would define virtually every existing transit bus and van as inaccessible. The draft uses the sweeping phrase ‘new, used, or remanufactured’ to describe what buses and vans the new rule will apply to. To avoid this draconian result, we recommend substituting the phrase ‘manufactured after [date]’ to any physical changes deemed necessary after appropriate study and analysis. Additionally, the date selected must allow a reasonable transition period after the effective date of the regulation to allow the industry to accommodate the final changes. This accommodation includes design changes by bus manufacturers and their suppliers, changes to the manufacturing processes to incorporate those design changes, and modifications to the contractual relationships between bus manufacturers and their public transit agency clients, as well as legally required, costly, and time-consuming ‘Altoona’ testing of changed designs. Modification of these public contracts will involve significant time and resources since federal grant conditions and state and local contracting rules require precise, auditable accounting for these ‘change orders,’ price adjustment negotiations, and, in many cases, approval by boards of directors of the various transit agencies. Because the nature and extent of any physical changes ultimately proposed will drive the degree of engineering and other changes required, we recommend the Board defer selecting a ‘manufactured after’ date until it has sufficient information to set a reasoned, reasonable date. Additionally, this approach will allow continued trade in used vehicles that have not yet reached the end of their useful lives. Small providers often obtain used vehicles as a means of improving accessibility of their systems and the Board’s proposal would ironically curtail those improvements.
Transition and Eligibility Issues Must Be Addressed
In addition to prospective application of the rule, the Board must consider how best to address the twelve or more years of mixed fleets where some buses comply with the new standards while others are based on the old standards. Without transition planning, a wheelchair user could board a ‘new rule’ bus to a transfer location, only to find only ‘old rule’ buses operating on the second leg of his trip. Additionally, the impacts on paratransit eligibility must be considered. How will providers account for a passenger whose wheelchair is within the new size standard but too large to access ‘old rule’ buses?
Automated Stop Announcement Requirements Should Include Both a Phase-in Period and Hardship and Small Fleet Exceptions
Proposed section 1192.35 introduces a new requirement for automated stop announcements. Although it is true that a growing number of transit agencies are incorporating automated stop announcement technology into their systems, the ability to do so is far from universal. Automated stop announcement systems generally utilize GPS equipment to trigger the announcement as the vehicle approaches a stop. This GPS technology is currently deployed on only about half of the nation’s transit buses, primarily in the biggest transit systems and would represent a substantial cost to those agencies that do not currently employ GPS systems in their fleets. While it may be feasible to add this equipment to existing fleets, it is a major undertaking, particularly for the smaller agencies, and may be of lower priority, or even undesirable, in comparison to other service improvement needs. We recognize a reasonable phase-in period for adding this equipment may not be as long as that required for physical changes to bus and van configurations, but believe it reasonable to delay the requirement to allow transit agencies to plan for, budget for, procure, install, and train on the use of the systems.
In addition, the costs associated with this requirement and their impacts on public transit agencies must be considered. The Board must remain mindful of the fact that each bus would require approximately $5,000 to $10,000 of additional equipment, as well as significant operating funding to maintain and operate the system. A hardship exception to allow continued use of simple oral announcements by drivers should be provided for in appropriate cases. Even where automated stop announcement equipment is deployed, there should be an option to revert to oral announcements as a stopgap measure if and when the technology fails. Without the ability to revert to oral announcements, a failure of the automated stop announcement system will effectively remove a bus from service.
The Board should also exempt small fleet operators from this requirement. The typical small fleet operator is found in small or rural communities where less formal interactions between vehicle operators and passengers are normally found. In fact, some and rural small agencies work with ‘flag stops’ that are not amenable to application of automated stop announcement systems. In many of these small agencies, public transportation vehicles are not even equipped with radios because of the infrastructure and cost impacts. Similarly, stop announcements make little sense in a paratransit operation, and we are not aware of any known applications for “flex service” (route-deviation) systems.
Finally, this proposed section also calls for equivalent information in visual form, but gives no indication of clarity, size, brightness, or other measures of adequacy. Without a reasonable standard, this proposal is of little value to passengers with visual impairments. Moreover, such a vague standard leaves transportation providers without guidance. It is just this sort of issue that lends itself to the APTA standards process.
The Definition of a Common Wheelchair Should be Clarified, Not Abandoned
The proposed rule abandons the concept of a common wheelchair, instead substituting minimum dimensional and turning radius requirements and a brief mention of ‘back-and-forth movement.’ While we agree that the definition of a common wheelchair should be reviewed in light of changes in the overall population since it was adopted, we believe abandoning the concept altogether is unwise. The proposed standards would create substantial uncertainty over the transportability of mobility aids among vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, transit agencies, wheelchair providers, and wheelchair users and foster disputes over compliance. The proposed standard does not account for maneuverability (or lack thereof) of some wheelchairs or other mobility aids (or differences among users) and, as drafted, would require all involved to test individual devices with individual equipment to determine if they are compatible. Moreover, departure from the concept of a common wheelchair invites introduction of a broad new, undefined class of devices that may be used to enhance mobility without regard to transportability or safety within a bus or van of the device user, other passengers, or transit vehicle operators. Does, for example, the Board intend that Segways be accommodated on all public transportation vehicles as mobility devices?
Regardless of the dimensional envelope that may be included in an updated definition, we believe any changes must be supported by reasonable research. As discussed above, any comprehensive review of the Board’s proposed changes necessarily includes review of the documentation the Board relies on in crafting its proposals. One application of this need for data is the Segway example above. If the Board proposes to accommodate Segways as mobility devices on public transit vehicles, it should make public its research concerning the safety ramifications of using these and other alternative mobility devices with ramps, lifts, and securement equipment, as well as how-or-whether they will be able to travel on PROWs.
The phrase “a minimum of back-and-forth movement” is necessarily subjective and detracts from the certainty that should accompany a standard. Again, this is an aspect of accessibility that lends itself to inclusion in the APTA standard setting process to establish a consistent, objective definition that mobility aid users, manufacturers of mobility aids and vehicles, and service providers can all rely on.
While we understand it is ultimately a function outside the Access Board to define a common wheelchair, we believe it incumbent upon the Board to clearly state its goal of accommodating wheelchairs that fit in the 30” by 48” envelope discussed in the draft – an envelope that is consistent with the current definition.
The Board Should Allow Flexibility in Updated Height and Securement Area Dimensions to Allow Continued Use of Cutaways and Minivans
In updating the requirements for clear access and securement area dimensions, it appears the Board has inadvertently created a standard that cannot be met with much of the current inventory of buses, cutaways, and minivans. The requirement for a clear 36” path would virtually eliminate minivans as an option since none could meet this size standard. Similarly, increasing the dimension of the securement area to 60” while disallowing consideration of space under adjacent seating would essentially foreclose minivan use. Finally, the proposed height requirements of 56” and 68” would eliminate use of minivans and many cutaways. Given the desirability of using minivans and cutaways in public transportation, we believe the Board should allow public transit providers sufficient flexibility to provide for such over-dimensional requirements, at least on an exception basis. Ironically, the proposed changes would virtually eliminate the ability of public transportation agencies to extend and enhance paratransit services through contracts with accessible taxis since most accessible taxis are mini-vans that would no longer be compliant. Thus, an important, cost effective, popular aspect of paratransit service that often allows almost immediate scheduling of service would be foreclosed.
The Board should consider the widely divergent uses of buses, vans, mini-vans, and cutaway buses in public transportation, and the practical differences among these vehicle designs. We believe the Board should study the feasibility of crafting different standards for different classes of vehicles.
Additionally, the conflicting sizing requirements throughout the draft make it difficult to adequately respond to the Board’s proposals. The draft notes that 42” minimum aisle widths are required to allow a turn into a 36” aisle in architectural applications, asks if a similar standard could be obtained in a vehicle, and variously proposes 36”, 32”, and 30” requirements. As above, the Board should publicly disclose the research that supports its proposals to allow for reasoned discussion of the various standards, their impact on the riding public, and the ability of the industry to comply.
The Board should consider the impact of the vague, undefined notion of ‘mobility devices’ discussed above, the proposed requirement for larger securement areas and clear paths, the requirement to accommodate any mobility device that will fit on a vehicle, and the limitations on securement devices available to public transportation providers. In conjunction, these factors make it less and less likely that mobility devices brought aboard public transportation vehicles will be able to be effectively restrained and the likelihood of accidents and injuries is elevated significantly. It is impractical if not impossible to foresee the broad range of equipment that could be brought aboard and even less likely that the most comprehensive securement system could accommodate all the various devices safely and efficiently. These safety issues ought to be part of the Board’s comprehensive research in advance of any rulemaking as discussed above.
Definitional and Clarity Issues
We believe the definitions in proposed section 1192.3 are deficient in several respects. The section does not reflect the reality that over-the-road coaches are often used in public transit service. The section does not define ‘van,’ ‘similar vehicle,’ ‘bus rapid transit vehicle,’ ‘minivan,’ or even ‘mobility aid.’ Draft section 1192.21(d) was added to address bus rapid transit facilities without defining what bus rapid transit is.
Additionally, a number of other proposed changes require clarification. In discussing the 30” x 48” envelope, does the Board envision any modification at or near floor level to accommodate floor trim, mechanical linkages, and hardware commonly found within 2” of the floor? Is there a maximum height envisioned for draft section 1192.23(a)(2) (requiring a clear width of 30” above 40” from the floor)? Does draft section 1192.29(c) require handholds on seats directly adjacent to partitions? Do the proposed lighting standards in section 1192.31(c) apply along the entire eight foot length of the ramp apparently required to meet the 1:8 slope? How does the Board envision a person with disabilities accessing a stop call when in a small wheelchair since draft section 1192.37(b) dictates placement within 3” of the expanded space centerline? Is there some measure to the extent a transit agency can “exert influence over… the design and construction of boarding and alighting areas” as discussed in draft section 1192.21(d)? Is the clear width requirement proposed permanent or could fold up seating intrude into the area when opened?
We greatly appreciate the opportunity to assist the Board in this important endeavor and reiterate our readiness to provide information, research, or other assistance necessary in continuing your efforts. For additional information, please contact James LaRusch of my staff at (202) 496-4808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
William W. Millar