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 Chelan-Douglas Public Transportation Benefit Area (Link Transit) 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 Link Transit
State Link Transit is a Washington State governmental organization that is a comprehensive public transportation agency meeting a wide variety of public and human services transportation needs though out the urbanized greater Wenatchee area as well as the rural communities of Chelan and Douglas Counties in Washington State. Link Transit is small transit operator (total fleet of 70 vehicles) that serves a large and diverse area; our service area is over 3,500 square miles. Our system provides a range of services: from traditional urban services in the greater Wenatchee area, to flex-routed rural services to mountain communities near the crest of Cascades, and to the wheat lands of Douglas County.
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.
In discussions with Access Board staff, 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. As small and many private 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 entities 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 appropriate to the goal of this rule making.
Automated Stop Announcement Requirements Are Not Universally Appropriate and May Not 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 and these competencies are not available to purchase in many rural areas. 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.
In addition to the issues outlined above, 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 can not be effectively used. It is also inappropriate to utilize the length of vehicle to trigger this type of requirement. At Link Transit, based on passenger demand, we utilize 28-foot long vehicles for some paratransit routes, 30-foot long coaches in some of our route deviated services and 40-foot long coaches on one of our flag stop routes. This situation is not unique at Link Transit 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 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.