April 11, 2007

Discussion of Revisions

In 1991, the U. S. Access Board issued Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles, codified at 36 CFR Part 1192. These guidelines form the basis for enforceable standards issued by the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT), codified at 49 CFR Part 38. Except for supplemental provisions for over-the-road buses issued in 1994, the guidelines have not been changed. Since the guidelines were first issued, new technology, vehicles and services have been introduced into public transportation. In 2006, the Board decided to update and refresh the vehicle guidelines.

The guidelines are divided into eight subparts. Subpart A includes general provisions pertaining to all vehicles covered by the DOT regulation (49 CFR Part 37), subparts B through G cover vehicles for various modes, and subpart H covers all other vehicle and service types. The Board plans to update the provisions subpart by subpart, beginning with Subpart B Buses, Vans and Systems, along with some correlated modifications to Subpart A. The first step is publication of this draft and request for comment. Comments on the draft received during the 60-day comment period will be considered in creating a subsequent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which will be open for additional comment. A final rule will be issued after comments to the NPRM are analyzed. The updated guidelines will apply to buses, vans and similar vehicles procured or modified after an effective date to be established by DOT when it issues standards based on the final guidelines.

Subpart A contains definitions for all the modes, but, for purposes of this draft, only those definitions pertaining to buses, vans and similar vehicles are included for reference. Most of them are not being recommended for change. A new definition of “bridgeplate” has been added. These devices are common for rail vehicles, but are new to buses because of Bus Rapid Transit. The definition of “common wheelchair” has been removed because it was misunderstood and misused. First, definitions are not regulatory. They are provided to help affected parties understand the requirements which are contained in the regulatory text. Second, the Access Board has no authority to regulate wheelchairs or mobility aids. Nevertheless, some transit agencies were using the definition to exclude certain wheelchairs from receiving service, even when those wheelchairs could be accommodated within the vehicle. The Board’s guidelines only apply to vehicles, so a new paragraph (c) is being proposed in 1192.21 to clarify the minimum width, length and height envelope which must be available within the vehicle, for it to be deemed accessible. The three-dimensional space must be available from the entrance to securement locations. A manufacturer or transit provider is not required to design or modify a vehicle to provide additional space to accommodate a wheelchair or mobility aid which is larger or weighs more than the lift, ramp or bridgeplate design load. Whether a provider must transport a wheelchair which exceeds those limits, but can still fit within the vehicle, is a matter for DOT to decide. The Board specifically requests comments on how to make the language of this section clearer.

A new paragraph (d) in section 1192.21 is intended to provide guidance to designers of Bus Rapid Transit projects which are often designed and executed as a system involving both vehicles and stop improvements. Since these guidelines are for vehicles, this paragraph is included here only to facilitate review and comment. When the Board issues its NPRM proposing changes to the vehicle guidelines, a provision similar to paragraph (d) may be proposed as an amendment to the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities. Alternatively, DOT may add this section to its regulations in 49 CFR Part 37.

Paragraph (a) in section 1192.23 on mobility aid accessibility has been reordered and renumbered. The existing guidelines contain only a general performance requirement for maneuvering clearance. Performance requirements are intended to give design flexibility, but, in practice, this section has lead to disputes between manufacturers and transit agencies on whether a particular design complies. The revised section attempts to add more specificity by requiring a route from the entrance to securement locations with a minimum 36 inch width. This is consistent with accessible routes in buildings, but has not previously been applied to vehicles. The Board recognizes that vehicles are constrained by road lane width and some restrictions in tunnels and bridges. The Board requests comments on the feasibility of this requirement. If a 36 inch width is not possible, would a 32 inch minimum width be achievable? In addition, front door entry necessitates a right angle turn. The available space is constrained by the fare box, driver seat, modesty panels and wheel wells. A 5-foot turning circle is not possible. In building standards, a 42-inch minimum aisle is required to turn into a 36-inch wide aisle. Can this be achieved in a bus? How can the maneuvering and turning space be defined so that compliance is more verifiable?

A problem frequently raised is accommodation of larger and heavier wheelchairs. Some size increases may not be achievable because of external constraints on vehicles which are beyond the control of the guidelines. Others could be solved with rear door entry. The Board is not inclined to mandate either front or rear door entry because of environmental barriers at bus stops. The draft does attempt to partially address the weight issue by specifying a higher design load for lifts, ramps and bridgeplates.

Lift manufacturers have told the Board that some jurisdictions specify a higher weight for lifts (e.g., 720 lbs). On the other hand, a review of available ramp specifications indicates 660 lbs is the weight limit. Even though lifts may be designed for more, most transit agencies intersperse ramp and lift buses. If lifts and ramps had different requirements, a passenger might make a trip on a lift-equipped bus and then discover he or she could not get home because a ramp bus arrived for the return trip. Therefore, the draft proposes raising the design to 660 lbs, from the current 600 lb requirement. Another factor to be considered is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued standards prescribing a whole series of tests based on the 600 lb requirement, in particular, the outer barrier test. What are the safety implications for a 700 lb wheelchair, for example, if the barrier is only designed to contain 600 lbs? The Board intends to coordinate its rulemaking with NHTSA.

Requirements for ramps have been simplified in paragraph (c) of section 1192.23. Instead of the complicated and confusing slopes tied to floor height, the proposal is to set the maximum slope at 1:8 in all cases, including when deployed to the roadway. This is possible now because of new ramp designs not available when the current guidelines were issued. In addition, in paragraph (c)(5) the draft requires only one door intended for boarding wheelchairs to meet this requirement if it can be accessed from all required securement locations. Other doors can have short bridgeplates. This is primarily intended to accommodate Bus Rapid Transit systems which have multiple doors boarding from platforms at vehicle floor height. A new provision has also been added in paragraph (c)(9) to require power operated ramps and bridgeplates to be deployable manually.

The securement design load provisions are unchanged. There has been considerable discussion over the years as to the adequacy or necessity of the force requirements. Currently, the requirement is primarily performance oriented. It does not specify a “four-point tiedown” although this has become the general norm. There has also been confusion about the purpose of securement devices. The securement system is not intended as passenger restraint or for protection of the wheelchair user. It is intended to duplicate, to the extent possible, the requirement on all other bus seats that they remain affixed to the vehicle in the event of a crash. The seat belt and shoulder harness, the use of which is at the option of the passenger, are provided primarily for persons with limited upper body strength who want additional stability. DOT has ruled that seat belt and shoulder harness use cannot be required unless all passengers are required to use them. In addition, DOT permits transit operators to establish a policy not to require securement. Nevertheless, a vehicle must have securement devices, seat belts and shoulder harnesses to be considered accessible. Seat belts and shoulder harnesses are currently required to comply with applicable provisions of 49 CFR 571. The Board seeks comment on whether the Society of Automotive Engineers standard would be better (http://www.sae.org/technical/standards/ground_vehicle/ACTIV).

Securement location and size requirements have been revised to require additional space where the area is constrained on three sides by seats, modesty panels, wheel wells, etc. The provisions are taken from requirements for alcoves in the new ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities. Two figures from that document will be included. A current provision allowing some of the required floor space to be under seats and panels has been removed. That provision worked for wheelchair footrests, but could not accommodate many scooters which have a front tiller control.

The provision for wheelchairs to be accommodated has been changed to remove the reference to common wheelchairs. Instead it would refer to the special requirements in 1192.21(c). The DOT regulation at 49 CFR 37.165(f) requires transit personnel to assist passengers with boarding, alighting and securement use. The stowage provision has been clarified so that the securement device cannot protrude into the required clear floor area. Also, the size of the padded barrier behind a rear-facing securement location has been refined.

The failure of bus drivers to call out stops as required by the DOT rule has been identified as a significant problem. Therefore, the draft proposes to require an automated system. In addition, a visual display is required to provide the same or equivalent information to people who cannot hear the auditory announcements..

Other changes clarify the vertical clearance required from the vehicle entrance to securement locations, eliminates the requirement for an overhead handrail in favor of seat-back handholds, deletes a specific placement for exterior lights, and incorporates signage specifications from the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities.