Madam Chair and Members of the Board:
My name is Curt Simon, executive director, Transit Authority, City of Omaha, d/b/a Metro Area Transit (“MAT”), 2222 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68102.
I write 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.
MAT, a political subdivision of the State of Nebraska, is responsible for the planning, operation and provision of mass transit bus and American with Disabilities Act Complementary Paratransit (“ADACP”) services within the City of Omaha. In addition, MAT has “turn-key” service contracts with communities contiguous to Omaha’s city limits. These cities include: Bellevue, NE, Ralston, NE, Papillion, NE, LaVista, NE and Council Bluffs, IA. Individually these cities operate ADACP service within their jurisdictions. For persons residing too far to walk to a bus stop and beyond MAT’s existing transit service boundaries Park and Ride lots are available. Zip codes for web site and mail order bus ticket sales reveal persons are traveling a minimum of 25 miles to utilize the Park and Ride sites.
Collectively, the Omaha and contracted services operate as one Transit System with the fare structure the same no matter the point-of-origin or destination. Bus routing includes line, feeder and weekday only rush hour express service. The hours of operation and route frequencies are scheduled to meet demand. Service hours are: Monday - Friday 4:18 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.; Saturday 5:50 a.m. – 10:36 p.m. and Sunday 5:56 a.m. – 7:50 p.m. The highest level of service operates weekdays with Saturday and Sunday service levels operating at 75% and 50% respectively of scheduled weekday operations. MAT’s transit service configuration is a traditional downtown-focused route structure with a secondary emphasis on mutli-directional travel transferring at five transit facilities.
MAT’s entire fleet is 100% ADA accessible and consists of 134 transit buses and 17 ADACP vehicles. Our existing fleet has a mix of lifts and ramps.
The Proposed Changes are Premature
We at MAT 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. These are issues that necessarily precede a discussion within the transit industry of whether such a ramp could even be incorporated into bus designs.
I must state again, the Board must publish the research and documentation relied upon to draft its proposals to facilitate well-reasoned, useful comments. There is no room for supposition or guesswork in drafting a rule likely to endure for many years and to affect so many transit riders.
Any Physical Changes Required Should Be Prospective Only
As proposed, section 1192.21(a) would render MAT’s bus and ADACP fleet inaccessible. The draft uses the sweeping phrase ‘new, used, or remanufactured’ to describe what buses and vans the new rule will apply to. MAT recommends substituting the phrase ‘manufactured after [date].’ 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, MAT recommends the Board defer selecting a ‘manufactured after’ date until it has sufficient information to set a reasoned, reasonable date. Additionally, this approach allows continued trade in used vehicles that have not yet reached the end of their useful lives. It is common for small transit operators to purchase MAT’s used vehicles as a means of improving accessibility of their systems and the Board’s proposal eliminates such cost-effective 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 transit operators account for a passenger whose wheelchair is within the new size standard but too large to access ‘old rule’ buses?
Automated Stop Announcement Requirements Must Include a Phase-in Period.
Proposed section 1192.35 introduces a new requirement for automated stop announcements. MAT does have GPS equipment on 90% of our fleet. However, our GPS system is six-years-old and can not accommodate automated stop announcements with out system upgrades. The costs to upgrade the GPS equipment, purchase additional GPS units and more importantly the associated required geo-coded mapping to utilize automated stop announcements are substantial. A reasonable time is needed for MAT to budget for the aforementioned system upgrades.
In addition, there should be an option to revert to oral announcements as a stopgap measure if and when the technology fails….and MAT’s experience with GPS is the system will fail. While on-going maintenance is costly, the reduced downtime is a prudent investment, there are instances where repairs are extremely expensive with lengthy down-time and no-fault of the transit operator, e.g., rain and lighting “knock out” the antenna. Our experience reveals the damaged antenna requires either a) replacing ground level specialized equipment which is not locally available; or, even worse, b) having to schedule a “tower climber”. Tower climbing is a dangerous occupation with the availability of insured, certified businesses extremely limited and seriously expensive, e.g., MAT pays $2,000 per climb and due to demand a two-week wait is not unusual.
Without the ability to revert to oral announcements, a failure of the automated stop announcement equipment, which I assure you will occur, effectively takes out-of-service a transit vehicle. I don’t believe this is the intent of the Board.
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 and transportation providers are left without guidance.
Definition of a Common Wheelchair Must 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 MAT supports the review of the “common wheelchair” definition, abandonment of the concept altogether is unwise. The proposed standards would create substantial uncertainty for MAT, our vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers.
The proposed standard does not account for maneuverability of some wheelchairs or other mobility aids 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, e.g., Segway, etc., that may be used to enhance mobility without regard to transportability or safety within a bus or van of the device user, other passengers, etc.
Regardless of the dimensional envelope that may be included in an updated definition, MAT believes any change must be supported by reasonable research and documentation. And, as discussed throughout this document, the Board must make public for review and comment all research and documentation the Board relied on in drafting its proposal(s), e.g., if the Board proposes to accommodate undefined class of devices (Segway) on public transit vehicles, it must make public its research concerning the safety ramifications of using these and other alternative mobility devices with ramps, lifts, and securement equipment.
The phrase “a minimum of back-and-forth movement” is necessarily subjective and detracts from the certainty that should accompany a standard.
While MAT 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 Must Allow Flexibility in Updated Height and Securement Area Dimensions For Continued Use of Cutaways and Minivans
In updating the requirements for clear access and securement area dimensions, the Board created a standard that cannot be met by a majority of the transit industry’s existing fleet. Minivans are eliminated as an option by: a) required clear 36” path; and, b) increased dimension of the securement area to 60” while disallowing consideration of space under adjacent seating. Minivans and Cutaways are eliminated by the proposed height requirements of 56” and 68”. MAT believes the Board must allow public transit providers enough flexibility to provide for such over-dimensional requirements, if at all, on an exception basis only.
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. Again, as previously stated MAT believes the Board must publicly disclose the research and associated documentation for 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.
MAT believes 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 used in public transit systems. The section does not define ‘van,’ ‘similar vehicle,’ ‘bus rapid transit vehicle,’ or ‘minivan.’ Draft section 1192.21(d) was added to address bus rapid transit facilities without defining what bus rapid transit is.
Transit Authority, City of Omaha, d/b/a Metro Area Transit (“MAT”)
2222 Cuming Street
Omaha, NE 68102
402.341.7560, Ex 2100