Please see attached comments from WMATA on Access Board DocketNo. 2007-1
January 16, 2009
Office of Technical and Informational Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board 1331 F Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
RE: Access Board Docket Number 2007-1 (ATBCB-2007-0006)
Dear Sir or Madam:
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is the largest mass transit provider in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and the second largest subway and fifth largest bus system nationally. Considered one of the most accessible transit systems in the world, all of our rail stations, rail cars, and buses are accessible, and we offer orientation sessions to assist customers with disabilities in using the Metro system. At rail stations with parking, there are accessible priority parking spaces near the entrance. Based on recent ridership figures, WMATA provides nearly 720,000 rail trips, 440,000 bus trips, and 6,000 paratransit trips every weekday.
WMATA is pleased to provide the following comments to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) in response to the notice of availability of draft revisions to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles (hereinafter referred to as "guidelines") and request for comment published on November 19, 2008 (at 73 Fed. Reg. 69592). We commend the Access Board on its continuing efforts to assure accessibility for persons with disabilities. We begin with general comments on the overall process, followed by more detailed comments on specific sections of the proposed guidelines.
General Comments on Process – Rulemaking is Premature
WMATA and public transportation providers across the country are committed to meeting the transportation needs of all of our customers and to providing the necessary accommodations for our customers with disabilities. Along with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and many of our sister transit agencies, WMATA submitted comments to the Access Board in June of 2007, and in those comments we urged the Access Board not to make any changes to the existing guidelines unless those changes were based upon need and reasonable evidence (i.e., research) to justify the additional cost and effort that would be required to make such changes. The transit industry is expending
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a significant amount of time and money to determine such needs and assess research through the accessibility standards development process led by APTA, by which vehicle manufacturers, service providers, and persons with disabilities work cooperatively to reach consensus on ever-evolving standards to ensure continued and improved accessibility. We understand that Access Board personnel are actively involved in that process.
We believe that it is premature to move forward with a rulemaking process at this point in time as there are a number of serious issues that remain unaddressed, such as:
• Proposed changes could radically impact the design (physical configuration) of buses, vans and similar vehicles, and such major design changes could seriously affect the operations of public transportation providers.
• Proposed changes would inevitably lead to mixed fleets and to vehicle requirements that differ from building requirements, both of which would pose additional challenges to persons with disabilities. For example, it would be of little use to a person with disabilities to be able to board a public transit vehicle with a 36" clear width when his or her destination is a compliant building which need only provide 32" doorway widths.
• Proposed changes do not take into account the unique challenges faced by transportation operators. Vehicle standards—as opposed to building standards—must be developed in the context of a dynamic environment that includes "environmental restrictions" that vary from state to state, city to city, and often street to street.
• The Access Board must examine the serious financial impacts of the proposed changes at a time when transit agencies around the country are already facing service cuts, in part because the governments that support those public services are struggling to balance their budgets. Proposed design changes would affect manufacturing costs (e.g., engineering, equipment, tooling, production facilities), which would be passed along to transit operators. Those operators would face increased costs beyond higher initial costs for rolling stock, including additional operator training/salaries/benefits, and increased fuel/insurance/maintenance costs for larger vehicle fleets. Increased capital and operating costs could result in additional transit agency service cuts across the country. Therefore, although the goal of the Access Board is to increase transportation options for persons with disabilities, the inadvertent result of prematurely moving forward with the proposed changes could result in fewer transportation options for all travelers with or without disabilities.
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• It is likely the Board would need to provide the assessments and estimates required by the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. §1532). In addition, the proposed Access Board changes appear to represent significant departures from existing regulations and policy, requiring a Federalism Assessment to comply with Section 6 of Executive Order 13132.
We do believe that the Access Board is moving in the right direction by seeking public comments, and we urge you to consider carefully the comments submitted by the transit industry (vehicle manufacturers, system operators, APTA, and others) both in June of 2007 and January of 2009, to continue dialogue with those in the industry who have practical, day-to-day experience with structural and operational issues related to public transportation, and to continue your participation in the setting of industry standards.
Specific Comments on Proposed Guidelines
Section T101 General: As per our June 2007 comments, we believe that any revisions to the existing guidelines should apply only to vehicles manufactured after a specific date that allows sufficient time for the transit industry to accommodate the final changes. Therefore, we propose the following:
T101 General. This document contains scoping and technical requirements for vehicles that are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. The requirements apply to the acquisition of new, used, and remanufac--t±weel vehicles and the remanufacture of existing vehicles as of [a specific date] to the extent required by regulations in 49 CFR Part 37 issued by the Department of Transportation under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Section T104.4 Defined Terms:
Common wheelchairs and mobility aids: The Access Board should not drop this definition from its guidelines. The concept and definition of a "common wheelchair" is integrally linked to regular fixed route transportation and paratransit entitlement. This important definition allows bus manufacturers to know what type of wheelchair or other mobility aid must be accommodated if they wish to sell their products to transit providers, and allows the transit provider to measure how many people will be able to use regular route service and how many persons will need to use complementary paratransit service. The elimination of the definition ends any such certainty.
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The ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) serves as the basis for the development of guidelines and regulations by other federal agencies, so the deletion of this definition would lead to substantial uncertainty over the transportability of mobility aids among vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, transit agencies, wheelchair providers, and wheelchair users, as well as foster disputes over compliance.
Absent a clear definition, a manufacturer could only guess whether a certain bus design would meet the ADAAG requirements. As a consequence, that design could be noncompliant with other regulations or economically unsaleable. Absent a clear definition, a transit provider would be constantly at risk of legal action were it to determine that it were unable to carry a patron with an unconventional wheelchair. Finally, the absence of a clear definition would cause great anxiety among wheelchair-using patrons since they would never know if a wheelchair/mobility aid that they are considering would be able to fit on their hometown bus or buses in cities that they may visit.
In its "preamble," the Access Board states that "some transit agencies have used the definition inappropriately to exclude certain wheelchairs and mobility devices from buses, even when those wheelchairs and mobility devices could be accommodated within the vehicle." Thousands of disabled passengers board transit vehicles every day across the U.S., and WMATA—along with its sister agencies—takes great pride in the accessibility of its vehicles. We urge the Access Board not to abandon this important definition based on a limited number of complaints. The suggested correction for this situation is to amend, not delete, the definition.
As noted in our June 2007 comments, the term "mobility aid" (used throughout the ADAAG) must be defined clearly by the Access Board in order to avoid significant operational and safety issues. Without a definition, equipment such as Segways, not specifically designed for use by people with disabilities as a mobility device, could be included. Allowing such equipment on transit vehicles poses significant operational and safety issues with regard to safe boarding and alighting of passengers on two-wheeled vehicles that lack the stability and balance of mobility devices designed for use by people with disabilities. There would be additional operational and safety issues in terms of restraining these two-wheeled vehicles, safely operating transit vehicles while people ride on these devices; and assuring the safety of other passengers in case of vehicle accident, sudden turn or deceleration.
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• Fixed route: The proposed definition might be misconstrued to include "commuter bus," so there needs to be a clarification that this is not the case. (Otherwise, this could have implications on paratransit service regulations at 49 CFR 37.1 21(c).) We propose the following definition:
Fixed route system. A system of transporting individuals (other than by aircraft), including the provision of designated public transportation, as defined in 49 CFR §37.3, by public entities and the provision of transportation by private entities, including, but not limited to specified public transportation, as defined in 49 CFR §37.3, but excluding commuter bus service, as defined in 49 CFR § 37.3, on which a vehicle is operated along a prescribed route according to a fixed schedule or having a general frequency or headway, which may vary according to the time of day.
• Remanufactured vehicle: The definition should be clarified to differentiate between "remanufactured" vehicles and vehicles that undergo midlife "overhaul" or "rehabilitation." The key difference has to do with the scope of repair work to the vehicle. The purpose of midlife overhaul/rehab is to return the vehicle to a "like new," original condition (appearance, performance and reliability), including work such as making repairs to the bus interior and exterior panels; or rebuilding or replacing certain components, systems and sub-systems. This work ensures that the designed service life of the vehicle—that was contemplated when the original useful life was established—will be achieved. Therefore, it may not extend the useful life of a vehicle as would "remanufacturing." WMATA recommends that the definition be revised, as follows:
Remanufactured vehicle. A vehicle which has been structurally restored and has had new or rebuilt major components installed to extend it:, service life. A vehicle which has been disassembled down to its basic structure, then structurally restored and had its major components, systems and sub-systems replaced with new and upgraded units in order to meet current standards and extend its service life. A vehicle that undergoes midlife overhaul/rehabilitation is not considered a "remanufactured vehicle" for purposes of these guidelines.
Sections T302.2 and T303.2 Design Load of Ramps, Bridgeplates and Lifts
The Access Board has revised wording in these two sections to increase the design load from 600 pounds to 660 pounds and to add the word "minimum." With regard to the weight increase, WMATA agrees with APTA that the Access Board should study the current (and any other available) forecasts of
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chair/rider/carried items total weight distributions prior to changing its guidelines. It is even more crucial that the Access Board complete the appropriate research prior to moving forward with a formal rulemaking to develop enforceable regulations. Such a change would result in significant costs to transit agencies such as WMATA, so the Access Board should ensure that target weight optimizes the cost/benefit balance and can be relied on for many years to come.
WMATA strongly urges the Access Board to eliminate the word "minimum" from both sections T302.2 and T303.2. In the current guidelines, the ramp and bridgeplate design load of 600 pounds was a maximum, not a minimum. The weight of ramps, bridgeplates, and lifts will necessarily affect the structural design of buses as well as the weight of buses, both when empty and when fully loaded. Without a maximum weight for ramps, bridgeplates and lifts, it is impossible to determine the appropriate structural design to assure safe operations. In addition, as noted above, unlike building standards, vehicle standards must be developed in the context of the dynamic transit operating environment. In the case of WMATA, our buses and vans operate in the District of Columbia, the State of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia, all of which have axle weight restrictions for road vehicles. Transit systems around the country have similar restrictions. Therefore, once the Access Board determines the appropriate target weight through research, it should be sure that the weight in its guidelines is expressed as a maximum weight.
Section T303.8.1 Slope of Ramps and Bridgeplates
WMATA agrees with APTA that additional research is needed before changing the current 1:4 slope requirement in the Access Board guidelines. Similar to the section immediately above, it is even more crucial that the Access Board complete the appropriate research prior to moving forward with a formal rulemaking to develop enforceable regulations. It is important to demonstrate that changes are, indeed, required, examine the feasibility of such changes, determine the cost impacts of such changes, and determine the benefit that would accrue to our riders with disabilities.
The Access Board should demonstrate that the long-existing 1:4 slope has, indeed, become problematic and that there is sufficient research to indicate a need to make a change to the guidelines. In addition, the Access Board should demonstrate that a 1:6 slope to boarding and alighting areas without station platforms and to the roadway would be widely acceptable and that it would, in fact, be feasible given the width of existing streets, sidewalks, and other bus stop locations. A ramp with a 1:6 slope would be longer than those currently in use and may interfere with axle design, ramp stowage, and other design
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aspects of the vehicles. We reiterate that unlike building standards, vehicle standards must be developed in the context of the dynamic transit operating environment. It is unclear that the 1:6 slope design could be reasonably incorporated into bus--and especially van--designs. Finally, the Access Board should ensure that slope optimizes the cost/benefit balance and can be relied on for many years to come. Although the Access Board states that 1:6 slope equipment is currently available, it is not widely used and is available from a
single manufacturer. WMATA cautions the Access Board to be careful not to create a monopoly situation through its actions.
Section T403.3 Securement Systems--Movement
WMATA urges the Access Board to remove the first statement in its "advisory" as we believe that having this statement in the text of the guidelines (albeit in an "advisory") may discourage passengers who use wheelchairs and mobility aids from securing them. We do not believe the Access Board intended in any way to discourage increased safety on board transit buses and vans.
We applaud the Access Board for its continuing work to assure accessibility for transit passengers with disabilities. We reiterate our concerns that despite the best intentions to increase transit accessibility, the Access Board may inadvertently reduce transit accessibility for all passengers if appropriate cost/benefit analysis is not completed and changes to the guidelines result in significantly increased costs, which force transit agencies and their local funding partners to reduce service. Consequently, we urge the Access Board to make only limited changes to its Guidelines for Buses and Vans that are based on documented research, which includes cost/benefit analyses. We strongly urge the Access Board to continue to participate and support the setting of industry standards and not to move forward with a formal rulemaking at this time. We believe that the industry guidelines will go a long way in addressing any perceived shortcomings in the current accessibility regulations. We encourage the Access Board to use the June 2007 and January 2009 comments as a basis for additional outreach to the transit industry and to conduct additional research and cost/benefit analysis prior to embarking upon a formal rulemaking.
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Again, thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on this key issue that is of such importance to WMATA and all transit providers.
Director, Office of Policy and Government Relations
Click here to see the attached file.