July 6, 2007
Office of Technical and Informational Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
RE: Comments to Access Board Docket Number 2007-1
Madam Chair and Members of the Board:
I am writing today on behalf of the Beaver County Transit Authority to provide comment on the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board’s Draft Revisions to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buses and Vans, published April 11, 2007, at 72 FR 18179.
About Beaver County Transit Authority
BCTA is incorporated under the Municipal Authorities Act of 1945, as amended. The land area of Beaver County is predominantly rural. The urbanized areas form a corridor in Central Beaver County comprised of a number of small urban areas, which are located along the Ohio River and north of the Ohio River. The urbanized area is served with an extensive fixed route system, which draws, to a large extent, the Beaver County commuters oriented to Pittsburgh. Both the urban and rural residents of the County are served by public paratransit service subsidized under the urban and rural operating assistance programs. The paratransit system does not duplicate the fixed route system. The paratransit system compliments the fixed route system by serving residents who cannot access fixed route transportation service.
Application of Guidelines
As a prelude to our comments, we wish to recognize the need to address the guidelines that relate to bridge plates and BRT vehicles. We appreciate the Access Board’s consideration of this new technology and support the development of guidelines that facilitate the implementation of this highly accessible and customer friendly technology. This being said, we have great concerns with many of the other proposed changes to the vehicle guidelines. We believe that the reasons for the changes are undefined and if anything, based on supposition and anecdotal reports. If there is a defined problem that effectively renders a vehicle that is currently fully ADA compliant inaccessible to mobility devices are that fully compliant with the dimensions of a “common wheelchair” (as defined in Part 37 of the ADA regulations), we request that the Access Board provide such information and data on the prevalence of the problem and the reason that the proposed changes in vehicular dimensional standards are the most efficacious means of resolving the problem. Absent this information, we believe that the proposed dimensional changes are arbitrary and unwarranted.
We have been told that the purpose behind the proposed dimensional changes is to ensure that persons with disabilities using “common wheelchairs and mobility devices” can effectively access and utilize our nation’s public transportation services. While we fully agree with this goal, we see no evidence that the latest dimensional change proposals are necessary or will significantly increase access to public transportation services. Instead, it appears that the proposals are primarily aimed at accommodating mobility devices that are larger than the common wheelchair as defined in the Department of Transportation’s regulations. We are particularly concerned with this direction because of the implications for the entire built environment and the very extensive accessibility improvements that have been made over the past 16 years. If the concern is actually that we should accommodate devices larger than the “common wheelchair” then the Board should be upfront with this desire and propose a rule making, including the appropriate cost and impact analysis of such an activity.
Proposed Changes Should Only Be Prospective
As proposed, section 1192.21(a) would render virtually every existing transit bus and van inaccessible. The draft uses the sweeping phrase ‘new, used, or remanufactured’ to describe the buses and vans to which the new rule will apply. To avoid this draconian result, we recommend substituting the phrase ‘manufactured after [date].’ This recommendation is vital to ensure the continued improvements to accessibility that we have seen over the last 16 years. It is important to remember that the Access Board’s guidelines are incorporated into the DOT’s regulations. As such, transit entities can only purchase vehicles that comply with the current version of the guidelines.
The Dimensional Changes Proposed To Accommodate “Common Wheelchairs” Need To Be Justified
The Access Board does not have the authority to change the definition of a “common wheelchair”. Accordingly, any proposed rule should be based on need to accommodate a common wheelchair. Nothing in the proposed changes has been demonstrated to be necessary for the accommodation of common wheelchairs. The proposals seem to be focused on making it easier for mobility aid users to board our vehicles. While ease of use is a positive value, the standard should be based on the minimum necessary to accommodate a “common wheelchair”. If the current standards prohibit the accommodation of “common wheelchairs”, then the Access Board should document the specific cases and limit its proposed changes to these specific cases.
The proposed standards would require exceedingly costly redesigns of nearly every commonly available vehicle and would effectively eliminate the mini-van as a part of our community fleets. The impact of this proposal would be profound as the current DOT regulations would prohibit us from contracting with entities that utilize “non-compliant” vehicles (a contract is considered an acquisition). As nearly every accessible taxi is a mini-van, we would loose the very passenger friendly option of using taxi services as an augment or a primary provider of paratransit. We can not believe that the Access Board would want to adopt a standard that would effectively reduce the availability of accessible taxi services.
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 systems. The section does not define ‘van,’ ‘similar vehicle,’ ‘bus rapid transit vehicle,’ or ‘mini-van.’ Draft section 1192.21(d) was added to address bus rapid transit facilities without defining what bus rapid transit is.
Manager of Safety & Operators