Discussion of Revisions


The Access Board is authorized under the Americans with Disabilities Act to issue accessibility guidelines for vehicles used to provide designated and specified public transportation. The Board originally issued the Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles in 1991. The vehicle guidelines form the basis for enforceable standards issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT standards (49 CFR Part 38) are substantively identical to the Board’s guidelines. Except for supplemental provisions for over-the-road buses (OTRBs) issued in 1998, the vehicle guidelines have not been updated. Since the vehicle guidelines were issued in 1991, new technology, vehicles and services have been introduced into public transportation. In 2006, the Board decided to update and refresh the vehicle guidelines incrementally, beginning with buses and vans, and later with rail and other fixed guideway systems.

On April 11, 2007, the Board released for public comment a first draft of its updated vehicle guidelines for buses and vans. The first draft was based on the Board’s review of the vehicle guidelines and input it received at an industry roundtable in January 2006 and public meetings held in September and July 2006. The first draft was available for comment until June 11, 2007. Almost 90 comments were received during the comment period. Comments that were submitted in an accessible format are available on the Board’s web site (http://www.access-board.gov/transit/comments/).

The Board is now releasing a second draft of the updated vehicle guidelines for buses and vans and is accepting comments on this draft until January 20, 2009. Comments submitted in accessible formats (e.g., HTML, Microsoft Word, ASCII text) will be posted on the Board’s website. All comments received on the first draft were considered in creating the second draft. Although OTRBs were not included in the first draft, some comments were received on OTRBs and the Board has decided to include OTRBs in the second draft. The second draft proposes specific requirements for level boarding buses, often incorporated in Bus Rapid Transit systems. A chart is posted on the Board’s web site (http://www.access-board.gov/transit/comparison.htm) comparing the second draft with the 1991 vehicle guidelines.

This is not a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). An NPRM will be published subsequently for further comment and will be accompanied by a preliminary regulatory assessment. Information for the assessment is currently being collected. A final rule will be issued after comments to the NPRM are analyzed.

Plain Language

The 1991 vehicle guidelines were written in conventional regulatory format, following Federal Register requirements, and are divided into eight subparts. Subpart A includes general provisions pertaining to all vehicles, subparts B through G cover vehicles for various modes, and subpart H covers all other vehicle and service types. The second draft of the vehicle guidelines is reorganized and reformatted to separate scoping requirements (e.g., how many, what type of vehicle, under what conditions, etc.) from a common set of technical provisions. This new format is more consistent with the revised Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities issued by the Board in 2004 and adopted by DOT in 2006. The second draft uses plain language so the requirements are easier to understand. Each section addresses one subject and is numbered with a heading or title for the section. Figures are inserted after some sections to illustrate the requirement in the section. Non-mandatory advisory information is also inserted after some sections to clarify the requirement in the section. This advisory material is clearly identified by shaded boxes. The Board requests comments on whether:

1. The scoping and technical requirements are clearly stated?
2. Any language is not clear?
3. Clarity can be improved by adding figures or advisory information?
4. There is anything else that can be done to make the guidelines easier to understand?

The sections in the second draft of the updated vehicles guidelines for buses and vans are briefly reviewed below.

Chapter T1 Application and Administration

Chapter T1 contains general application and administration sections, including equivalent facilitation, conventions, and definitions. Section T104.4 contains definitions originally contained in Subpart A of the 1991 vehicle guidelines. For purposes of this draft, only those definitions pertaining to buses, OTRBs, and vans are included. Some definitions that were in the first draft are not included because they are in the DOT rule. When provisions for rail and other vehicles are proposed in a subsequent rulemaking, additional definitions will be added. The first draft did not include OTRBs so the definition of an OTRB was not included, a point raised by one comment. Since this draft includes OTRBs, the definition is now included.

Most definitions are not being recommended for change. Definitions are provided to help affected parties understand the requirements which are contained in the text of the guidelines. A new definition of “bridgeplate” has been added. These devices are common for rail vehicles, but are new to level boarding buses because of Bus Rapid Transit.

The definition of “common wheelchair” has been removed. 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. Commenters on the first draft who recommended retaining the definition cited the desire to use the definition to determine what size wheelchairs and mobility devices are eligible for bus service. Several commenters said removing the definition would require transit agencies to transport wheelchairs and mobility devices that they could not secure. In fact, the DOT regulation already addresses this issue: “The entity may not deny transportation to a wheelchair or its user on the ground that the device cannot be secured or restrained satisfactorily by the vehicle's securement system.” 49 CFR 36.165(d). If DOT wishes to retain a definition of “common wheelchair” in its regulations for other reasons, DOT can do so, and comments on that subject should be addressed to DOT when DOT updates its regulations.

Some commenters recommended that the guidelines address the “Segway” personal transportation device, but DOT has already issued guidance on its use on transit vehicles (http://www.fta.dot.gov/civilrights/ada/civil_rights_3893.html).

The definition of “fixed route” has been clarified to indicate that a fixed schedule is not the determining criterion of what is a fixed route. Congress clearly intended that rapid rail and light rail systems be considered as fixed routes, but rapid rail and light rail systems do not have “fixed” schedules. Instead they operate with a generally consistent headway or train frequency, which usually varies by the time of day. One commenter on the first draft recommended against the definition change, stating that it would require the provision of complementary paratransit for commuter bus systems. The DOT regulation (49 CFR 37.121) specifies which systems must provide paratransit and states that commuter bus systems are not required to provide complementary paratransit service.

Chapter T2 Scoping Requirements

Chapter T2 contains scoping requirements. Section T201 applies to all vehicle types. The provision is substantively identical to section 1192.21(a) of the 1991 guidelines and continues to refer to new, used, and remanufactured vehicles required to be accessible by the DOT regulation.

Some commenters recommended that the vehicle guidelines apply only to vehicles manufactured after the effective date of the updated guidelines. The ADA applies to transit agencies, and not vehicle manufacturers. The ADA requires that vehicles procured by transit agencies comply with the applicable accessibility standards. When DOT updates its ADA regulations to adopt the Board’s updated vehicle guidelines as the new accessibility standards for vehicles, DOT will establish the effective date after which vehicles procured by transit agencies must comply with the new accessibility standards.

Section T203 is the beginning of the specific sections for buses, OTRBs, and vans. The sections are organized so that the scoping requirements for all buses are stated first, followed by scoping requirements for level boarding buses. The reader who is interested in the scoping requirements for a particular type of vehicle should be able to easily identify the applicable sections and skip over sections that do not apply.

The 1991 vehicle guidelines assumed that a lift or ramp, which could deploy to ground level, would be provided at each door where a wheelchair or mobility aid user would board and alight. However, some bus routes are being designed for boarding and alighting from a station platform at the vehicle floor level, sometimes through multiple doors on both sides of the vehicle. Section T203.2.2.2 would require a lift, ramp or bridgeplate only where the vertical separation between the boarding and alighting area exceeds plus or minus 5/8 inch or the horizontal separation exceeds 2 inches. Where a platform and vehicle floor height are coordinated to meet the specified horizontal and vertical separation at the door, no lift, ramp, or bridgeplate is needed at that door.

Section T203.2.1 requires all buses, including buses operating in level boarding bus systems, to provide a boarding device that is capable of being deployed to the roadway. An exception to section T203.2.1.2 permits buses operating exclusively in level boarding bus systems to provide portable ramps on-board the bus that are capable of being deployed to the roadway.

Section T203.3 through T203.6 cover wheelchair spaces, circulation paths, doorways, and steps.

Section T203.7 covers handrails, handholds, and stanchions. The 1991 vehicle guidelines contain a provision for overhead handrails. Overhead handrails are usually not useful to people with disabilities so that provision has been removed and replaced with a requirement for handholds or stanchions at the aisle side of seat backs.

Sections T203.8 through T203.11 cover securement systems, seat belts and shoulder belts, and destination route signs.

Section T203.12 is a new requirement for an automated route announcement system for vehicles at stops which serve multiple routes. Section T203.13 requires an automated stop announcement system on large vehicles (more than 22 feet in length) operated by public entities on fixed routes with multiple stops. This requirement in the first draft generated many comments. The 1991 vehicle guidelines require large buses to have a public address system, but failure of drivers to announce stops is the major compliance issue reported by the Federal Transit Administration. Commenters on the first draft expressed concern that if automated stop announcements are required, transit agencies would need to install expensive and complicated global positioning (GPS) or automated vehicle location (AVL) systems. The commenters noted that GPS systems often do not work reliably in mountainous regions or even in some central cities with tall buildings. The Board requests information on the following:

1. How do automated stop announcement installation costs compare to the stop announcements currently in use?

1.1. Does your agency use a microphone-only PA?
1.2. A system with push-button announcements?
1.3. Other?
1.4. What is the installation or factory-added costs of those systems?

2. How does your agency currently gather and store locations of bus stops (for internal or traveler information use)?

2.1. Does your agency have any experience building geo-located stop databases using off-the-shelf consumer equipment or free web-based solutions?
2.2. Have you tested the data gathered this way to gauge its accuracy?
2.3. Has there been any attempt to gather these data already for traveler information reasons? 

3. Are you aware of technical solutions that might accomplish the goals of stop announcement for your agency outside of the current commercial offerings?

3.1. If you have deployed such a system, how did the actual costs compare to the quoted prices for commercial off the shelf systems?
3.2. If you are aware of such a solution but have not deployed it, why not?

4. For agencies located in areas with known GPS reception problems, how have you obtained accurate location information?

4.1. Have these solutions been used as an alternative or augment to GPS systems?

5. Are there significant differences between the stop announcement needs for small and rural communities as compared to urban areas?

5.1. How are you currently providing this information?
5.2. Has your agency explored ways to automate the dissemination of this information?
5.3. What kinds of successes or failures have you had with these techniques and how did the costs compare to the commercially available solutions common for large and urban agencies?
5.4. If requirements should be different for “small” agencies, how should “small” be defined?

Sections T203.14 and T203.15 cover stop request systems and fare collection devices.

Chapter T3 Boarding Devices

Chapter T3 contains technical requirements for lifts, ramps, and bridgeplates. An advisory note highlights the differences between the technical requirements for lifts in the Board’s vehicle guidelines and in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). The Board had considered incorporating the NHTSA standards by reference, with some exceptions, but the NHTSA standards apply only to the manufacture of lifts for motor vehicles, and not rail vehicles. Note that section T302.2 of these guidelines specifies a design load of 300 kg (660 lbs.) for lifts. Lifts meeting this design load are currently available.

Section T303.2 specifies a 300 kg design load (660 lbs.) for ramps and bridgeplates. Several commenters on the first draft thought that the ramp width had been increased. The width has not changed. Section T303.8 specifies the maximum slope for ramps and bridgeplates. Commenters on the first draft showed that a 1:8 slope to the roadway was not achievable. However, buses with a ramps slope of 1:6 to roadway are currently available. Where boarding and alighting occurs from station platforms coordinated with the vehicle floor, the required slope of 1:8 should be achievable with a short bridgeplate.

Commenters on the first draft questioned why the 1:4 slope maximum specified in the 1991 guidelines is inadequate. Simple geometry will suffice to illustrate the problem. A typical manual wheelchair has an approach angle of approximately 10 degrees. This is the angle between a level plane and a line drawn from the caster contact point to the lowest point of the underside of the footrest. A 10 degree angle represents a slope of about 1:6. If a wheelchair with this approach angle attempts to ascend a ramp steeper than 1:6, the footrests will hit the ramp before the front caster. The only way to avoid a sudden stop is to tip the chair backward, thus losing any forward momentum. Descending the ramp forward is worse, since the chair will come to a sudden stop, possibly catapulting the occupant out. Descending backward is no better, since a typical manual wheelchair will flip over backward when the rear wheels reach the ground at the bottom of the ramp. Most power wheelchairs will experience similar problems and many cannot be tipped back.

Chapter T4 Wheelchair Spaces and Securement Systems

Chapter T4 covers wheelchair spaces and securement systems. Section T402.4 specifies the minimum clear floor area that must be provided. Sections T402.4.1 and T402.4.2 require additional maneuvering clearance where the space is confined on three sides. Anyone who has attempted to parallel park a car in a space the same length as the car knows that it is impossible. Obviously a 48-inch long wheelchair cannot enter a 48-inch long space that is confined on three sides. Several commenters on the first draft expressed concern that the additional maneuvering clearance would reduce seating capacity. An advisory note clarifies that the additional maneuvering clearance is only needed to enter and exit the wheelchair space and can be reclaimed by fold-down seats at other times. Reduction in seating capacity has been a common concern since accessible buses were introduced. During off-peak hours, seats are almost always available. During peak hours, when the number of seats is an issue, accessible buses provide more passenger capacity because they can accommodate more standees.

The “forward approach” configuration may apply in a minivan entered from a rear ramp or it may apply to a “rear approach” to a rear-facing wheelchair space. Most manual wheelchairs have front casters and many new power chairs have rear casters. A 30-inch wide wheelchair entering a 30-inch wide space confined on three sides may have little trouble, but exiting requires the casters to swivel. A minimum of three inches is needed on each side of the space for this to occur. Thus, a wheelchair space confined on three sides must be at least 36 inches wide. Two figures to show this are included. A provision in the 1991 vehicles guidelines 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 scooters which have a front tiller control.

Section T403.5 provides more specificity on the padded headrest required by the 1991 vehicle guidelines for rear-facing securement.

Chapter T5 Circulation Paths and Doorways on Buses, Over-The-Road Buses, and Vans

Chapter T5 covers circulation paths and doorways. The first draft had specified a 36-inch wide path from entry doors used by wheelchair users and asked whether that was achievable. Commenters showed that it was not. The overall width of a vehicle is determined by the roadway on which it must operate. Low floor buses have the advantage of allowing the use of a simple ramp, instead of a more complicated lift. The shape of the front wheel housings on low floor buses, which must allow the wheels to turn, creates a narrower aisle for front door entry. Comments from manufacturers of high and low floor buses showed that a width of 34 inches was achievable. The required minimum vertical clearance along the path varies according to vehicle size and type. These vertical clearances have not been changed from the 1991 vehicle guidelines. The wording for vertical clearances was clarified in the first draft and in the second draft as well.

Chapter T6 is reserved for circulation paths and doorways on rail vehicles which will be addressed in future rulemaking.

Chapter T7 Communication Features

Chapter T7 includes technical requirements for communication features, including signs and announcement systems. The provisions for sign characters and line space are adapted from the Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities. Section T704 covers automated route announcement systems and T705 covers automated stop announcement systems.

Chapter T8 Other Features

Chapter T8 covers other requirements for slip resistance, protrusions, surface discontinuities, and openings. Doorway lighting, additional handrail and stanchion requirements, operable parts, and fare collection devices are also covered in this chapter.

Amendments to Buildings and Facilities Guidelines for Station Platforms

The Board is proposing some technical amendments to Section 810.5 of the Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities to include level boarding bus stations.