June 11, 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 write on behalf of the Central Contra Costa Transit Authority (CCCTA). This letter is 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 FR18179.
About the Central Contra Costa Transit Authority (CCCTA)
CCCTA is the public transit operator for the 10 jurisdictions, as well as the county, for the area known as central Contra Costa County. We provide fixed route transit with 131 buses and ADA- based paratransit with 50 small buses and minivans. We also provide some community-based specialized transportation for seniors and for disadvantaged communities. CCCTA has been completely dedicated to full accessibility for its entire 26-year history. CCCTA was the first public transit operator in America to offer a complete fleet of lift-equipped buses. And, CCCTA was one of the first transit operators to allow standees on its lifts. This all was accomplished prior to 1990, so we have a great deal of experience in serving persons with mobility devices, and we take great pride in our work in this vein.
Application of Guidelines
We believe that much of the proposal is insufficiently defined and is insufficiently supported by research. We believe that the proposals are based on supposition and anecdotal reports. We believe that these proposals do not take into consideration of what is in place already nor do they look at the practical application of the operationalization of the proposal themselves.
If these proposals are based on more than supposition and anecdotal reports, the Access Board needs to share that data and research publicly. As it stands now, much of the proposal seems 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 Access Board should say that. The Access Board should propose a rule-making that includes an appropriate cost and impact analysis.
Ramp Slope Proposal will Decrease Not Increase Accessibility
The proposal on ramp slopes is one example of an ill defined and unsupported proposal. What is the evidence that a 1:4 slope for ramps is not adequate? This has not been our experience at all. The 1:4 sloped ramps that are on our low floor accessible buses have been very popular with our passengers who use mobility devices. They are preferred over our high floor buses that use lifts. We have had no accidents using the 1:4 ramp.
However, requiring us to use a 1:8 ramp will cause significant problems. First, it must be pointed out that this will make the ramp twice as long as it is now. Many of the streets, roads and sidewalks, etc., in our community are built such that a longer ramp cannot work with many of our bus stops that are now accessible They will become inaccessible with a ramp requirement that makes the ramp twice as long. I cannot imagine that this is what the Access Board has in mind.
Secondly, doubling the length of the ramp will have the effect of forcing transit vehicles further out into the roadway and away from the curb. This will make certain turnouts and curb cuts unusable. Many of these turnouts and curb cuts were in place to increase accessibility. It would be cruelly ironic if this proposal went through and had the net effect of reducing accessibility at bus stops. Forcing transit vehicles further out into traffic and away from the curbside will only make transit service provision less safe for all of us.
Again, what is the problem that we trying to fix here? We see no evidence of any real problem with the 1:4 ramp.
Automated Stop Announcement Requirements Are Not Universally Appropriate and Will Not Always Improve Accessibility
Proposed Section 1192.35 introduces a new requirement for automated stop announcements. The proposed rule indicates that this change is being proposed to address the documented (through ADA compliance reviews) problem of the failure of operators to consistently call out stops. While we agree that the failure to consistently call stops is a problem, there are also well documented instances where automated stop announcements have not been a panacea. There are numerous examples of locations where automated systems make unintelligible announcements or have become disconnected (out of sequence) with the trigger mechanisms and are making the wrong or late announcements. This comment is not meant to be critical of automated stop announcement systems. Where these systems have been deployed by agencies with the appropriate technical sophistication to implement and maintain them along with the underlying infrastructure, they can be a true improvement. It is important to recognize that many small transit agencies do not have this technical competency. As a comparison, it is important to remember that nearly 1/3 of rural transit agencies don’t even have two-way communications with their vehicles due to a lack of infrastructure and high costs. Imposing such a requirement on these small and rural entities would probably not be a net positive in terms of practical accessibility.
The proposal would require such systems on vehicles that exceed 22-feet. This proposal does not recognize that many agencies utilize vehicles over 22-feet in length in route deviated paratransit and flag stop services where automated stop announcement systems would have no value (announcing a stop just before the bus deviates off its route). As automated stop announcement systems are relatively expensive, it is inappropriate to require this type of equipment on vehicles where it cannot be effectively used. It is also inappropriate to utilize the length of vehicle to trigger this type of requirement. Based on passenger demand, CCCTA utilizes 24- and 26-foot long vehicles for some paratransit routes. We are looking at using 30-foot vehicles in route deviation in the future. This situation is not unique to CCCTA, as most route deviation and flag stop service is provided in vehicles over 22-feet in length. Accordingly, automated stop announcement systems should not be required for vehicles that deliver paratransit route-deviated (flex-route) or flag stop services.
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. We question whether it will be technically possible to provide such announcements at a scale that is readable throughout a vehicle, particularly smaller vehicles with limited headroom.
The Dimensional Changes Proposed to Accommodate Common Wheelchairs Need Justification
The Access Board does not have the authority to change the definition of a common wheelchair. Any proposed rule the Access Board has to be related to what is necessary to accommodate a common wheelchair. The proposals appear to focus on making it easier for mobility aid users to use transit services. While this is worthy, the standard is to be based on the minimum necessary to accommodate common wheelchairs. If the current standards don’t allow for transit usage by those using common wheelchairs, then the Access Board should document those cases and limit its proposals to those cases.
The proposed rule abandons the concept of a common wheelchair. The proposal would at minimum create great confusion among transit operators, transit vendors, mobility device makers and users, and the public leading to unending conflict and dispute.
The proposed rule introduces broad new and undefined classes of devices that are not part of the definition of a common wheelchair. The proposal does this without regard to the transportability of the device, without regard to the safety of the device user, other passengers, or the transit operator within the transit vehicle.
As noted above, the proposal regarding dimensional changes to accommodate the common wheelchair is done without the benefit of evidence based on research that demonstrates such a need. What documentation and research did the Access Board rely on to make this proposal? One application for the need of such research and data is the Segway example. If the Access Board proposes to accommodate Segways on public transit, it should make public the data
showing the need for this, as well research concerning the safety ramifications of using these and other alternative mobility devices with ramps, lifts, and securement equipment.
Effective Elimination of Paratransit Vans
Almost all of the paratransit service delivered in this country is delivered with cutaways, minivans and accessible taxis. This proposal would effectively end the ability to use minivans and taxis. And, it would make it very difficult and costly to use cutaways. This would also limit our ability to contract for service with taxi companies. We don’t believe the Access Board means to promulgate a proposal that would lead to this.
Many times over our ADA patrons who use mobility devices have told us how much more they prefer the minivan to a small bus for comfort and ride-ability. Moreover, because of the nature of our service area, we are only able to reach the door or the curb of some ADA eligible mobility device using passengers with minivans. These are passengers who live or go to places that are on hills with very tight roads and very small areas to turnaround. It is impossible to service such people with anything larger than a minivan.
Proposed Changes Should be Prospective
As proposed, section 1192.21(a) would effectively make every existing transit bus and van inaccessible. The proposal uses the sweeping phrase ‘new, used, or remanufactured’ to describe the buses and vans to which the new rule will apply. To avoid this disastrous result, we recommend substituting the phrase ‘manufactured after [date].’ This recommendation is crucial 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. Thus, transit operators can only purchase vehicles that comply with the current version of the guidelines. Many small transit operators purchase used equipment. They would be precluded from purchasing equipment that is significantly more accessible than current equipment (i.e., low floor verses older high floor or accessible over-the-road equipment). As most of these smaller systems do not have the resources to purchase brand new equipment, they would be forced to continue to operate less accessible older buses rather than upgrading to more accessible newer buses. This outcome does not seem to be what the Access Board actually seeks.
For the past 16 years, the transit industry has made remarkable progress in making transit services fully accessible. There are no known or documented reasons for changing rules in such a profound and upsetting manner. The Access Board should only act on documented research within areas of its authority.
Moving forward on the proposals would be damaging to public transit and the very people the Access Board is trying to help. These proposals will lead to less, not more, accessibility by taking away working solutions to the accessibility challenge.
There is no need for these draft proposals. The Access Board should not release them as a Notice of Proposed Rule Making
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
Central Contra Costa Transit Authority
2477 Arnold Industrial Way
Concord, CA 94520-5326