Updated ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buses and Vans
Summary of Comments and Responses on Other Aspects of the Proposed Rule
Overall, the Access Board received about 100 written comments to the 2010 NPRM, including those received during the reopening of the comment period in the fall of 2012 to address issues related to ramp designs. In addition to comments received on the major issues discussed in the preceding section, commenters also expressed views on a variety of other matters related to the proposed rule. The Access Board’s response to significant comments on these other matters are discussed below on a chapter-by-chapter basis following the organization of the final rule. Also addressed below are requirements in the final rule that have been substantively revised from the proposed rule. Provisions in the final rule that neither received significant comment nor materially changed from the proposed rule are not discussed in this preamble.
A. Format and Organization
As noted previously, the formatting and organization of the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines differs significantly from the existing guidelines. The new format organizes the revised scoping and technical guidelines for buses, OTRBs, and vans into seven chapters, all of which are contained in a new appendix to 36 CFR Part 1192. This organization is consistent with the approach used by the Access Board since the issuance of its Americans with Disabilities Act and Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines in 2004. The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines use a modified decimal numbering system preceded by the letter “T” to distinguish them from other existing guidelines and standards. Main section headings are designated by three numbers (e.g., T101, T102, etc.). Under each main section heading, the text of the guidelines is organized by section levels. The first section level is designated by a two-part number consisting of the number used for the main section heading followed by a decimal point and a consecutive number (e.g., T101.1, T101.2, etc.). The second section level is designated by a three-part number consisting of the two-part number assigned to the first level section followed by a decimal point and a consecutive number (e.g., T101.1.1, T101.1.2, etc.).
Additionally, as part of its efforts to update its transportation vehicle guidelines, the Access Board has endeavored to write the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines in terms that make its requirements easier to understand. As a consequence, most of the revisions in the final rule are editorial only, and merely restate existing guidelines in plainer language.
Commenters to the 2010 NPRM generally applauded the Access Board’s efforts to revise the existing guidelines, including the format and organization of the proposed rule. Several commenters also praised the proposed rule as providing a much needed “refresh” of the existing guidelines, which were last amended in 1998. Some commenters did suggest that certain provisions would benefit from clarification or a retooled format. In response to such comments, many provisions in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines have been consolidated, renumbered, or relocated. Even still, most of the scoping and technical requirements in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines remain substantively the same as the existing guidelines, with changes in wording being editorial only. A side-by-side comparison of the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines and the existing guidelines is available on the Access Board’s website (www.access-board.gov). Unless otherwise noted, section numbers cited below refer to provisions in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines.
B. Chapter 1: Application and Administration
Chapter 1 contains provisions on the application and administration of the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines. Only the definitions section in this chapter received comments.
In the 2010 NPRM, the Access Board proposed to remove several outdated or redundant definitions in the existing guidelines, including the definition of the term “common wheelchairs and mobility aids.” Three transit agencies recommended that the Access Board retain this definition in the final rule, while another urged the Board to work with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to update the definition of “wheelchair” in DOT’s own regulations for ADA-covered vehicles. One transit agency described the term as serving as a “reliable measure” for transit operators.
The Access Board believes that commenters’ concerns about removal of this term from the transportation vehicle guidelines are misplaced. Deletion of the phrase “common wheelchair and mobility aids” will not leave transit agencies or others without guidance on what constitutes a “wheelchair” or other mobility aid. Rather, the practical effect of removing this definition means that the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines will, instead, look to the definition of “wheelchair” in DOT’s regulations for ADA-covered transportation vehicles. See T103.2 (providing that undefined terms, if expressly defined in DOT regulations, shall be interpreted according to those meanings). DOT’s definition of “wheelchair,” in turn, is similar to the definition of “common wheelchairs and mobility aids” in the existing guidelines, with the exception that its definition does not provide spatial and weight specifications for wheelchairs or mobility aids. Compare 49 CFR 37.3 (DOT definition of “wheelchair”) with 36 CFR 1192.3 (definition of “common wheelchairs and mobility aids” in existing guidelines).15
The Board is aware that some transit agencies have, in the past, used the definition of “common wheelchairs and mobility aids” inappropriately to exclude certain wheelchairs and mobility devices from buses or vans, even when such devices could be accommodated within the vehicle. To the extent transit agencies are concerned that deletion of this definition in the Access Board’s transportation vehicle guidelines will mean they can no longer determine what size wheelchairs or mobility devices are eligible for bus service, existing DOT regulation already address 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 include a definition for “common wheelchair” in its regulations for other reasons, DOT can certainly do so. Comments on this subject should be directed to DOT when it commences a rulemaking to update its own regulations for ADA-covered transportation vehicles.
To provide clarity and consistency, several new terms have also been added to the definitions section (T103) in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines. These terms are: boarding platform, fixed route service (or fixed route), large transit entity, large non-rail vehicle, small non-rail vehicle, and non-rail vehicle. Generally speaking, these terms (or their related concepts) were present in the proposed rule, but appeared in scattered scoping or technical provisions. For convenience and clarity, these terms are now centrally defined in T103. Each term is briefly discussed below.
“Boarding platform” is a new term for which definition was needed because the final rule, for the first time, addresses accessibility requirements for level boarding bus systems. A “boarding platform” is defined as a platform “raised above standard curb height in order to align vertically with the transit vehicle entry for level boarding and alighting.” (Though not expressly defined, the 2010 NPRM used the term “station platform” in the context of requirements for level boarding bus systems.)
“Fixed route” is defined in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines because the existing definition (which is incorporated from DOT regulations) references “fixed route systems,” whereas the final rule refers to fixed route “services” or simply “fixed routes.” In all other respects, the definition of “fixed route” has the same meaning as the existing guidelines.
The term “large transit entity” has been added in order to simplify the scoping and technical requirements for automated announcement systems, but it does not alter their meaning or application. As before, only public transportation providers that operate 100 or more buses in annual maximum service for all fixed route bus modes, as reported to the National Transit Database, are subject to the automated announcement system requirement.
“Large non-rail vehicle” and “small non-rail vehicle” had previously been defined in Chapter 2’s scoping provisions. For clarity, these “definitions” were moved to the definitions section in the final rule. In all respects, however, the terms have the same meaning as in the proposed rule. “Large non-rail vehicles” are vehicles more than 25 feet in length, as measured from standard bumper to standard bumper, and “small non-rail vehicles” are vehicles equal to or less than 25 feet in length. In the existing guidelines, 22 feet is the maximum length for small vehicles. A manufacturer noted, in response to the 2010 NPRM, that newer van designs have safety bumpers and frontal crash protection features that increase the vehicle length beyond 22 feet, but provide no additional passenger space. Consequently, while their currently available production models of vans and small buses qualify as large vehicles under the existing 22-foot threshold, compliance with certain accessibility requirements applicable to large vehicles (e.g., provision of two wheelchair spaces) is not practical due to limited interior space. This commenter recommended that the Access Board increase the threshold for distinguishing between small and large vehicles from 22 feet to 25 feet. The Access Board believes this commenters’ concerns are well taken, and, accordingly, has increased the size threshold for large non-rail vehicles in the final rule. The Board does not expect this change to have a cost impact. Rather, this revision to the regulatory definition of “large non-rail vehicle” is only intended to address the problem of small vans or buses being inadvertently “reclassified” as large vehicles due to exterior safety features that increase a vehicle’s bumper-to-bumper length without any accompanying expansion of interior passenger space.
Lastly, a definition of “non-rail vehicle” has been added to the final rule to clarify that this term, when used in the context of the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, is intended to collectively refer only to those types of transportation vehicles that are addressed in these revised guidelines—namely, buses, OTRBs, and vans. By so defining “non-rail vehicle” in the final rule, potential confusion is avoided with the far broader definition of the term in DOT’s existing regulations for ADA-covered transportation vehicles, which includes, among other things, public rail transportation. See 49 CFR 37.3.
C. Chapter 2: Scoping Requirements
Chapter 2 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines has been substantially reorganized to present a more simplified approach. Whereas nearly all scoping provisions for buses, OTRBs, and vans in the 2010 NPRM were “nested” as subsections to a single section (former T203), in the final rule, each discrete feature or set of related requirements—such as, steps (T203), doorways (T204), illumination (T205), and handrails, stanchions, and handholds (T206)— has been assigned its own scoping section. Some scoping provisions have also been editorially revised for clarity. While the Access Board believes the modifications to the organization and text of provisions in Chapter 2 represent improvements, none of these changes were intended to alter the substantive scope of the final rule.
With the exception of the scoping requirements for automated announcement systems, relatively few commenters to the 2010 NPRM addressed the scoping provisions. Most matters raised by commenters related to scoping for the automated announcement system requirement are discussed above in Section III (Major Issues), and will not be repeated here. However, there remain a few scoping-related matters raised by commenters that have not been previously addressed, and these matters are discussed below. Significant comments on other proposed scoping provisions are also discussed in this section.
Buses, OTRBs, and vans acquired or remanufactured by entities covered by the ADA must comply with the scoping requirements in Chapter 2 to the extent required by DOT’s implementing regulations for ADA-covered transportation vehicles, which, when revised, are required to use the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines as minimum accessibility standards. Two transit agencies and a bus manufacturer expressed concern about, or requested clarification of, the application of the requirements in the final rule to existing or remanufactured non-rail vehicles. Implementation and enforcement of the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines is within the sole authority of DOT, not the Access Board. The Access Board is statutorily tasked under the ADA with establishing minimum guidelines for the accessibility of ADA-covered transportation vehicles. Whether DOT ultimately elects to make its regulations applicable to then-existing ADA-covered vehicles, and, if so, to what extent, remains within the sole province of that agency. Consequently, compliance with the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines is not required until DOT adopts these guidelines as enforceable accessibility standards.
T202 Accessible Means of Boarding and Alighting
All buses, OTRBs, and vans covered under the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines must provide at least one means of accessible boarding and alighting that serves all designated stops on the assigned route to which the vehicle is assigned. These vehicles must also provide access to the roadway in the event passengers must be offloaded where there is no platform or curb. Provision of accessible boarding and alighting may be accomplished through the use of ramps and bridgeplates, lifts, or level boarding and alighting systems that meet the technical requirements in Chapter 4. Accessibility requirements for level boarding bus systems are new to the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines because the advent of such transit systems (e.g., bus rapid transit systems) post-dated the issuance of the existing guidelines in 1991. Only two commenters expressed views on this scoping section, and both supported the Access Board’s inclusion of requirements for level boarding bus systems.
T206 Handrails, Stanchions, and Handholds
The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, as with the existing guidelines, require handrails, stanchions, or handholds to be provided at passenger doorways, fare collection devices (where such devices are otherwise provided), and along onboard circulation paths. Large non-rail vehicles must generally provide stanchions or handholds on forward- and rear-facing seat backs. Handrails, stanchions, and handholds must comply with the technical requirements in T303.
In response to three separate comments from a bus manufacturer, seating manufacturer, and transit agency, the text of T206 has been revised and an exception for high-back seats, such as those often found on OTRBs, has been added. The text revisions clarify that, where stanchions or handholds are provided on front- and rear- facing seat backs, they must be located adjacent to the aisle so that passengers may use them when moving between aisles and seats. The new exception provides that, for high-back seats, overhead handrails are permitted in lieu of stanchions or seat-back handholds.
T207 Circulation Paths
As a matter of clarification, the proposed rule specified that, where doorways are provided on one side of a non-rail vehicle, an accessible circulation path must connect each wheelchair space to at least one doorway with accessible boarding and alighting features. See 2010 NPRM, Section T203.4.2. Where doorways are provided on two sides of a vehicle, the proposed rule provided that an accessible circulation path must connect each wheelchair space to at least one doorway with accessible boarding and alighting features located on each side of the vehicle. Id. Additionally, the proposed rule provided that an accessible circulation path must connect each wheelchair space to at least one accessible doorway (i.e., a doorway from which an accessible boarding and alighting feature can be deployed to the roadway). Id.
The Access Board received several comments from disability rights organizations and individuals with disabilities in support of this clarifying language, and no commenters expressed disagreement with this approach. The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines retain this clarification on the scoping for circulation paths.
T210 Wheelchair Spaces
Under the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, large non-rail vehicles must provide at least two wheelchair spaces, and small non-rail vehicles must provide at least one wheelchair space. Wheelchair spaces must also be located as near as practicable to doorways that provide accessible boarding and alighting features and comply with the technical requirements in T602. The requirements remain unchanged from the proposed rule.
A van manufacturer suggested, in response to the 2010 NPRM, that the Access Board add language in the final rule that would allow additional spaces, even if they do not meet the minimum required dimensions. The Board declines to add this requested text. Additional wheelchair spaces are already permitted under the existing guidelines, and the same language has been carried over into the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines. See T210.3. (“Small non-rail vehicles shall provide at least one wheelchair space complying with T602.”) (emphasis added). Neither the existing guidelines nor the revised guidelines in the final rule preclude additional wheelchair spaces beyond the minimum, but they do require each space—for safety reasons—to provide compliant securement systems, as well as seat and shoulder belts.
T211 Wheelchair Securement Systems
Wheelchair securement systems complying with the technical requirements in T603 must be provided at each wheelchair space. The Access Board received several comments on the proposed technical provisions addressing wheelchair securement systems, and these comments are discussed under Chapter 6.
The 2010 NPRM proposed that non-rail vehicles operating in fixed route systems be required to designate at least two seats as priority seats for passengers with disabilities. See 2010 NPRM, Section T203.10.1. The priority seats must be located as near as practicable to a doorway used for boarding and alighting. This is similar to the requirement that wheelchair spaces be located as near as practicable to a doorway used for boarding and alighting. Where aisle-facing seats and forward-facing seats are provided, at least one of the priority seats must be forward facing.
Comments were received from a bus manufacturer and a transit operator seeking clarification whether flip up seats used in wheelchair spaces could also be designated as priority seats. There is nothing in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines that prohibits such an approach. The same bus manufacturer also sought clarification concerning whether aisle-facing priority seats must be provided, even if none are near a doorway. When there is one or more aisle-facing seats on a fixed route non-rail vehicle, at least one of these seats must be designated as a priority seat. If there is only one aisle-facing seat on a fixed route non-rail vehicle, then that seat must be designated as a priority seat regardless of its location. If, however, a fixed route non-rail vehicle has more than one aisle-facing seat, then the transit operator has the discretion to designate as a priority seat whichever aisle seat it deems “as near as practicable” to a passenger doorway.
T215 Communication Features
The scoping provisions for communication features address a number of different areas, including: signs or markers for priority seats, identification of wheelchair spaces and doorways that provide accessible means of boarding and alighting with the International Symbol of Accessibility, provision of exterior route or destination signs, and automated announcement systems on large non-rail vehicles that operate in fixed route service with multiple designated stops.
In the 2010 NPRM, the scoping requirements for communication features were scattered throughout Chapter 2. In the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, all scoping requirements related to communication features have been reorganized and consolidated under a single section, T215. Other than this reorganization and some minor editorial changes to the text of certain provisions to improve clarity, the scoping provisions in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines for communication features are the same as in the proposed rule.
With respect to signage for priority seats, the 2010 NPRM proposed that priority seats for passengers with disabilities be identified by signs informing other passengers to make such seats available for passengers with disabilities. These signs would be required to comply with the technical requirements in T702. (Section T702, in turn, addresses such matters as character style and height, line spacing, and contrast.) See 2010 NPRM, Sections T203.10.2, T702. No commenters expressed disagreement with these scoping provisions. However, several persons with disabilities noted their frustration that priority seats on buses are often occupied by passengers who may not need them or filled with other passengers’ personal belongings (such as packages or strollers), and urged the Access Board to address this issue in the final rule.
While the Board acknowledges that ensuring the availability of priority seats for passengers with disabilities is a frequent problem, resolution lies beyond this final rule. This is a programmatic and service issue that falls outside the Access Board’s jurisdiction and, in any event, is a matter best left to DOT and transit operators. Disabilities are not always visible or apparent, and it can be difficult to discern whether a passenger has priority to use a designated seat. The requirement for signage at priority seats is aimed at helping to ensure that people with disabilities have priority use of these seats. However, there is nothing in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines (or, for that matter, current DOT regulations) requiring other passengers to make the seats available, or mandating that vehicle operators make passengers move from priority seats when, in their view, such passengers do not need them. Nonetheless, transit operators are encouraged to make efforts, as appropriate for their systems and localities, to ensure that priority seats are available for passengers with disabilities when needed.
Section T215 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines also establishes several new communication-related scoping requirements for OTRBs. These new provisions, as applied to OTRBs, relate to: identification of priority seats (with signs) and wheelchair spaces and accessible doorways (with the International Symbol of Accessibility) (T215.2.1, T215.2.2, and T215.2.3); exterior route or destination signs (T215.2.4); public address systems (T215.3.1); and stop request systems (T215.3.3). While these requirements are new to OTRBs, they have all been in effect for buses and vans since the existing guidelines were first promulgated in 1991. No comments were received on these scoping provisions as newly applied for OTRBs. The expected costs for these new OTRB requirements are discussed below in Section V.A (Regulatory Process Matters - Final Regulatory Assessment (EO 12866)).
Lastly, T215.3 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines sets forth scoping requirements for announcement systems on large non-rail vehicles operating in fixed route service that stop at multiple designated stops. These requirements address: public address systems, stop request systems, and automated route identification and stop announcement systems. The Access Board received a substantial number of comments relating to the issue of whether large transit agencies should be required to equip their large fixed route buses with automated announcement systems, and these comments are addressed above in Section III (Major Issues). Several other commenters sought clarification on how this requirement would apply in particular settings. These comments are discussed below.
First, a large transit agency, while noting that its fixed route bus fleet was already equipped with automated announcement systems, nonetheless expressed concern about the cost of complying with the automated announcement system requirement to the extent it would apply to its small fleet of large paratransit vehicles, which do not have such equipment installed. This commenter urged the Access Board to expressly exempt paratransit vehicles from the automated announcement system requirement. The Board declines to adopt this suggestion because no such exception is needed. By its terms, the automated announcement system requirement applies only to large non-rail vehicles operating in fixed route service with multiple designated stops. See T215.3, T215.3.2, and T215.4. Fixed route service, in turn, is defined as “[o]peration of a non-rail vehicle along a prescribed route according to a fixed schedule.” T103. Paratransit service, by nature, does not operate on either prescribed routes or fixed schedules. Accordingly, paratransit service does not qualify as “fixed route service,” and, therefore, is not subject to the automated announcement system requirement.
Second, a state-wide association of transit managers asked the Access Board to clarify how the VOMS 100 threshold applies to contractors that provide fixed route bus service for public transit agencies. “Large transit entity,” which is a newly defined term in T103, refers to providers of public transportation services that “operat[e] . . . 100 or more buses in annual maximum service for all fixed route service bus modes collectively, through either direct operation or purchased transportation.” Thus, for purposes of determining whether a transit operator is a “large transit entity” subject to the automated announcement system requirement, both directly operated and purchased (i.e., contracted) transportation services “count” towards the VOMS 100 threshold. This approach is consistent with DOT’s current accessibility standards for ADA-covered transportation vehicles, which specify that public entities entering into contractual arrangements with private entities for provision of fixed route service must ensure that the private entity satisfies the same accessibility requirements that would be applicable as if the public entity directly provided that same service. See 49 CFR 37.23; see also 49 CFR 37.3 (defining the term “operates” to include both directly operated and purchased transportation services).
Third, a number of commenters, including APTA and several transit agencies, sought clarification concerning application of the automated announcement system requirement to existing buses. APTA stressed that restricting the scope of this requirement to new (or newly acquired) buses was important to ensure that large transit agencies that do not yet have automated announcement systems would be able to acquire needed equipment through their regular procurement cycles, and smaller transit agencies nearing the VOMS 100 threshold were not inadvertently limited from expanding their fixed route service.
As discussed at the outset of this section (see T201 Scope), determining whether (or to what extent) the automated announcement system requirement will apply to existing buses falls within the purview of DOT, not the Access Board. The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, as with our existing guidelines, establish minimum accessibility guidelines for buses, OTRBs, and vans acquired or remanufactured by entities covered by the ADA. See T101.1, T201.1. These revised guidelines, however, only become enforceable standards upon adoption by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Whether DOT elects to make its regulations applicable to then-existing ADA-covered transportation vehicles, and, if so, to what extent, remains within its sole discretionary authority. Consequently, views on the application of the automated announcement system requirement to existing buses are best directed to DOT, once it commences its own rulemaking to adopt the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines as enforceable accessibility standards. Regulated entities will not be required to comply with the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines until DOT completes its rulemaking efforts.
D. Chapter 3: Building Blocks
Chapter 3 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines has been significantly reorganized from the proposed rule. Chapter 3 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines contains the technical requirements related to three areas—walking surfaces (T302), handrails, stanchions, and handholds (T303), and operable parts (T304)—that formerly were located in a different chapter in the 2010 NPRM. See 2010 NPRM, Sections T802 (Surfaces), T804 (Additional Requirements for Handrails, Stanchions, and Handholds), and T805 (Operable Parts). While relatively few commenters addressed the proposed technical requirements in the 2010 NPRM relating to these three areas, some of these comments did lead the Board, as discussed below, to slightly revise the provisions in Chapter 3 of the final rule.
T302 Walking Surfaces
The technical requirements for walking surfaces include provisions on slip resistance, the maximum size of surface openings, and the maximum height of vertical surface discontinuities (i.e., changes in level), with and without edge treatment. Exceptions are also provided for certain openings in wheelchair securement system components affixed to walking surfaces and for manual placement and removal of ramps and bridgeplates (as, for example, on small buses or vans in cases of emergency), as well as walking surfaces on steps that are not part of onboard passenger access routes.
With respect to slip resistance, a bus manufacturer urged the Access Board to incorporate specific measures for slip resistance (i.e., maximum and minimum friction coefficients) in the final rule. The Board declines to adopt this recommendation. As with our other existing accessibility guidelines for the built environment and other areas, we do not specify in this rule any coefficients of friction because a consensus method for rating slip resistance still remains elusive. While different measurement devices and protocols have been developed over the years for use in the laboratory or the field, a widely accepted method has not yet emerged. Since rating systems are unique to the test method, specific levels of slip resistance can only be meaningfully specified according to a particular measurement protocol. Some flooring products are labeled with a slip resistance rating based on a laboratory test procedure.
Another commenter, a transportation research center, noted that the wheelchair securement systems used in many non-rail vehicles—especially small buses and vans—are floor mounted and have openings that allow wheelchair tie downs to be attached using the openings. As a consequence, this commenter observed that most securement systems would not satisfy the proposed maximum opening in walking surfaces (i.e., passage of a sphere no more than 5/8 inch or 16 mm in diameter). See 2010 NPRM, Section T802.3). To address this concern, an exception has been added to the final rule that allows a larger opening (7/8 inch width maximum) for wheelchair securement system components affixed to walking surfaces, provided that, where such openings are greater than 5/8 inch in width, they visually contrast with the rest of the walking surface. See 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, T302.3, Exception 1. We do not, however, adopt this commenter’s additional suggestion that wheelchair securement system components be exempted from the surface discontinuity requirements, which, in their view, was needed due to concerns about the commercial availability of products that meet this standard. We have identified several recessed or flush-mounted securement systems currently on the market that would comply with the requirements in the final rule. Accordingly, the final rule does not exempt wheelchair securement systems from compliance with the technical requirements for surface discontinuities in T302.4.
T303 Handrails, Stanchions, and Handholds
The technical requirements for handrails, stanchions, and handholds include specifications on edges, cross sections, and clearances (i.e., space between gripping surface and adjacent surface). We received only one comment on the proposed technical requirements in the 2010 NPRM related to the cross section of seat-back handholds. In the 2010 NPRM, we proposed that gripping surfaces with circular cross sections (such as those used on seat-back handholds) have an outside diameter of 1 1/4 inches minimum and 2 inches maximum. A seating manufacturer expressed concern that larger diameter handholds would result in significant industry-wide expense and lead to potential safety issues because greater rigidity would be less likely to absorb energy on impact. This commenter suggested that the Access Board instead harmonize with specifications for seat-back handholds in APTA’s model bus procurement guidelines, which provide a 7/8 inch diameter (minimum) handhold with quantification of minimum energy absorption for the seat back and handhold.16 APTA’s model bus procurement guidelines are well-established in the public transportation industry, and the Board is unaware of any concerns regarding the smaller seat-back handhold minimum specified in those guidelines. Accordingly, in the final rule, the Board has lowered the minimum dimension for seat-back handhold cross sections from 1 ¼ inches (32 mm) to 7/8 inches (22 mm). See T303.3.1.
T304 Operable Parts
The technical requirements for operable parts in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines remain the same as in the proposed rule; however, they have been slightly reorganized so that all requirements are consolidated into a single section, T304. The technical requirements for operable parts include provisions on height, location, and operation. Operable parts on fare collection devices serving passenger access routes, stop request systems, wheelchair spaces, and priority seats must comply with these technical requirements.
In the 2010 NPRM, the Access Board proposed to raise the minimum height of operable parts in non-rail vehicles from 15 inches to 24 inches. See 2010 NPRM, Section T805.2. A commenter to the 2008 Draft Revised Vehicle Guidelines noted that some operable parts—such as those on stop request devices—are small and difficult to reach for some transit users. To address the problem, the commenter suggested raising the specified minimum height for operable parts. No commenters objected to the revised minimum height (24 inches) for operable parts in the proposed rule. A transit agency did note that, based on a survey of its existing bus fleet, all operable parts on its buses were already mounted higher than 24 inches. Accordingly, the Access Board believes that compliance with this revised minimum height for operable parts—which has been retained in the final rule (see T304.2)—is unlikely to cause transit agencies to incur new costs or significantly alter existing practices.
E. Chapter 4: Boarding and Alighting
Chapter 4 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, which sets forth the technical requirements for ramps and bridgeplates, accessible means of level boarding and alighting, lifts, and steps, has been significantly reorganized and revised from the proposed rule. All technical provisions related to boarding and alighting—including level boarding bus systems and steps (which formerly appeared in Chapters 2 and 5 respectively in the proposed rule)—are now consolidated in this chapter. Several provisions have also been revised at the behest of commenters. Responses to comments on the Board’s proposal in the 2010 NPRM to revise the technical requirements for the slope of ramps in non-rail vehicles by specifying a single standard (1:6) for maximum running slope applicable to ramps deployed to roadways or curb-height bus stops are discussed in Section III (Major Issues). Discussed below are significant comments on other technical requirements for ramps, bridgeplates, and lifts, as well as other revisions to Chapter 4 in the final rule. (We received no comments on two provisions in Chapter 4—Level Boarding and Alighting (T404) and Steps (T405)—which are unchanged from the 2010 NPRM.)
T402 Ramps and Bridgeplates
The technical requirements for ramps and bridgeplates in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines include provisions on design load, installation and operation, emergency operation, surfaces, clear width, edge guards, running slope, transitions, visual contrast, gaps, and stowage. These technical requirements are organized in similar fashion to the proposed rule; they also remain the same substantively as in the proposed rule, with the exception of the requirements for maximum ramp running slopes. Section T402 has been slightly revised to clarify that the ramps and bridgeplate barriers must be a minimum height of 2 inches, but allows them to be reduced to less than 2 inches when they are within 3 inches of the boarding end of the device. This accommodates wheelchair users’ need to turn as they enter and exit the ramp and reduces the likelihood that passersby will trip on the barrier.
The Access Board received several comments relating to technical specifications for the design load of ramps. In the 2010 NPRM, the Board proposed to retain the existing requirement that ramps and bridgeplates longer than 30 inches (as well as lifts) be required to have design loads of 600 pounds (273kg) minimum. See 2010 NPRM, T303.2. These commenters – including a transit agency, an advocacy organization, and two transportation research centers – urged the Board to update (i.e., increase) the specified design loads for lifts and ramps because, over time, occupied wheeled mobility devices have gotten heavier (e.g., larger or more complex devices, growing obesity rates).
While the Board acknowledges the trend towards heavier wheeled mobility devices and other factors having a tendency to increase the weight of various potential ramp-based boarding and alighting scenarios, we do not believe a revision in the existing minimum design load for ramps and bridgeplates is advisable at this time. Additional research directed at evaluating design loads for ramps in buses and vans, as well as potential effects of increase in minimum design load on vehicle design or operation is needed. Moreover, it is also important that any potential revision of requirements for minimum design loads for ramps be coordinated with design loads for public lifts specified in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), which are incorporated by reference in the technical specifications for lifts in the final rule. See 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, T403.1. The Board also notes that the design load specified in T403.1 is a minimum requirement. Ramp manufacturers and transit operators are free to develop and use ramps with increased design loads as they deem appropriate. Indeed, there are several commercially available ramp models that have rated load capacities that exceed 600 pounds.
A bus manufacturer commented that the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) permit marking of the sides of the barriers to indicate the surface boundaries and warn passersby of a tripping hazard. Nothing in the final rule prevents this additional high contrast marking.
The technical requirements for lifts have been substantially revised in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines. In the 2010 NPRM, the technical requirements for lifts were set forth in five enumerated provisions, with one section (T302.5) having eleven subsections. See 2010 NPRM, Sections T302.1 – T302.5. These provisions addressed design load, controls, manual operation, platform characteristics, gaps, threshold ramps, contrast, deflection, movement, boarding direction, standees, and handrails. Id. Several commenters, including transit operators and a bus manufacturer, expressed concern with certain aspects of these proposed technical provisions, including specifications for interior and exterior manual releases in the event of a power failure. These commenters urged the Access Board to instead reference existing standards for public vehicular lifts set forth in the FMVSS, which are issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. See 49 CFR 571.403, 571.404.
After considering this recommendation, the Board has determined that the public lift standards in the FMVSS provide a similar level of accessibility relative to the proposed rule, and, as well, provide measurable testing requirements that ensure both accessibility and safety for lift users. Section T403 of the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines has thus been revised to incorporate the technical requirements for public use lifts specified in Standards 403 and 404 of the FMVSS, which are codified at 49 CFR 571.403 and 571.404. We do, however, carry forward the requirement from the proposed rule that lift platforms be designed to permit passengers who use wheelchairs to board the platforms facing either toward or away from the vehicle. The public lift standards in the FMVSS are silent on boarding direction, so this requirement is set forth in a separate, stand-alone provision in the final rule. See 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, T403.2.
F. Chapter 5: Doorways, Circulation Paths, and Fare Collection Devices
Chapter 5 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines contains the technical requirements for doorways, illumination at doorways and boarding and alighting areas, passenger access routes, and, where provided, fare collection devices. Chapter 5 has been significantly reorganized since the proposed rule, with two sections being moved out of this chapter and located elsewhere in the final rule (i.e., former T505 addressing handrails, stanchions, and handholds moved to scoping provisions in Chapter 2, and former T504 addressing steps moved to Chapter 4), and two other sections, which were formerly housed in other chapters of the proposed rule, now being located in this chapter (i.e., T503 Illumination, T505 Fare Collection Devices). The Board believes that this reorganization makes for a more cohesive presentation of the technical requirements in this chapter. Additionally, in the final rule, the technical requirements for vertical clearances at doorways with lifts or ramps and for illumination at doorway areas have been restated using text in lieu of the tabular formats in the proposed rule. Compare, e.g., 2010 NPRM, Table T503.1 (Vertical Clearance at Doorways with Lifts or Ramps) and Table T803 (Areas Illuminated and Illuminance Levels) with 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, Sections T502 (Doorways) and T503 (Illumination). Other provisions in this chapter have also undergone modest editorial changes aimed at clarifying or simplifying the regulatory text. Despite the foregoing organizational changes and editorial revisions to Chapter 5, the substance of the underlying technical requirements remains largely the same as in the proposed rule, with the exception of the requirements for passenger access routes.
T503 Passenger Access Routes
In the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, passenger access routes (which were referred to as “accessible circulation paths” in the proposed rule) must provide clearances sufficient to permit passengers using wheelchairs to move between doorways with accessible boarding and alighting features and wheelchair spaces, and to maneuver in and out of wheelchair spaces. This requirement essentially mirrors the current provisions in the existing guidelines applicable to buses, OTRBs, and vans. See 36 CFR 1192.23(a) (“All [covered] vehicles . . . shall provide . . . sufficient clearances to permit a wheelchair or other mobility aid user to reach a securement location.”), 1192.159(a)(1) (establishing same requirement for OTRBs). In the 2010 NPRM, the Access Board proposed prescribing a specific dimensional standard (34 inches) for the clear width of passenger access routes. See 2010 NPRM, Section T502.2. For the reasons discussed previously, see Section III (Major Issues), the Board decided not to move forward with this proposal in the final rule. It is hoped that, in the near future, ongoing research on interior circulation on public transportation vehicles will yield a performance standard that will serve the needs of transit operators, bus and equipment manufacturers, and persons with disabilities alike. At present, however, no such performance standard exists that can be referenced in the final rule.
T504 Fare Collection Devices
Section T504 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines establishes specifications for the location of fare collection devices (to ensure that such devices do not impede wheelchair movement along passenger access routes), as well as their operable parts (to ensure such devices are reachable and usable by passengers with disabilities). These technical requirements mirror those proposed in the 2010 NPRM. However, the Access Board did not retain a proposed specification—which also appears in the existing guidelines for buses and vans—requiring fare collection devices, where provided, to be located “as close to the dashboard as practicable.” See 2010 NPRM, Section T502.3; see also 36 CFR 1192.33 (“Where provided, the farebox shall be located as far forward as possible[.]”). This change recognizes the possibility that some bus systems may also provide fare collection devices at center or rear doors. Wherever located, however, fare collection devices must not interfere with passenger circulation.
A transit agency expressed concern that application of the requirements in this section, in conjunction with the maximum mounting height for operable parts specified in T304 (i.e., operable parts cannot be located higher than 48 inches above the vehicle floor), would require fare collection devices to be mounted higher than the industry norm of 45 inches. The Access Board believes such concerns are misplaced, and has not modified the specified height range for operable parts on fare collection devices (or any other devices). Forty-eight inches is the maximum height at which parts intended for use by passengers may be located; it is not the required height for operable parts. Under the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, operable parts may be located at any point within the specified range of 24 inches minimum and 48 inches maximum. Transit operators may thus continue to follow industry norm and mount fare collection devices such that their operable parts are located 45 inches above the vehicle floor.
G. Chapter 6: Wheelchair Spaces and Securement Systems
Chapter 6 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines establishes technical requirements for wheelchair spaces, wheelchair securement systems, and seat belts and shoulder belts provided for passengers who use wheelchairs. (In the 2010 NPRM, these provisions appeared in Chapter 4 of the proposed rule.) With the exception of two areas, this chapter has been neither significantly reorganized nor substantively revised from the proposed rule. The two areas in which the requirements in this chapter differ substantially from the proposed rule—wheelchair space maneuvering clearances and forward excursion barriers for rear-facing wheelchair containments systems—are detailed in Section III (Major Issues) above. Comments related to proposed technical requirements in these two areas are also discussed in that section, and are not repeated here. Discussed below are significant comments on other aspects of the technical requirements for wheelchair spaces and securement systems.
T602 Wheelchair Spaces
The technical requirements for wheelchair spaces include provisions on surfaces, approach, and size. Under the final rule, as with the existing guidelines, one full unobstructed side of each wheelchair space must adjoin or overlap a passenger access route. See T602.3. Wheelchair spaces must also be 30 inches minimum in width and 48 inches minimum in length. See T602.4. Because mobility devices vary widely in their respective dimensions and maneuverability, we note that it may be beneficial for transit operators to consider providing wheelchair spaces larger than this minimum size to meet the needs of all transit users.
An exception has been added to T602.4 in the final rule that permits the space occupied by wheelchair footrests to be located under an adjacent seat, provided that the space under such seat meets specified size requirements. See T602.4 Exception. This exception is also found in the existing guidelines. See 36 CFR 1192.23(d)(2) (providing that “[n]ot more than 6 inches of the required clear floor space [for wheelchair spaces in buses and vans] may be accommodated for footrests under another seat”), 1192.159(d)(2) (setting forth same exception for wheelchair spaces in OTRBs). Because the 2010 NPRM proposed additional maneuvering clearances for wheelchair spaces, this exception was not germane and, therefore, did not appear in the proposed rule. See 2010 NPRM, Section T402. However, since these proposed maneuvering clearances have not been retained in the final rule, this exception is once again needed to permit an overlap between wheelchair spaces and the space under adjacent seats, provided such overlap satisfies certain conditions.
T603 Wheelchair Securement Systems
The technical requirements in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines for wheelchair securement systems include provisions on orientation, design load, movement, and rear-facing wheelchair securement systems. In the 2010 NPRM, with respect to requirements for orientation of wheelchair spaces and their accompanying securement systems, the Access Board essentially restated requirements in the existing guidelines: wheelchair securement systems must secure a wheelchair so that the occupant is facing the front or rear of the vehicle (i.e., no “side facing” securement is permitted), and, on large non-rail vehicles, at least one securement system must be forward facing. See 2010 NPRM, Section 403.2 & Advisory T403.2 Orientation.
A joint comment submitted by a consortium of transportation research centers urged the Access Board, for safety reasons, to restrict rear-facing wheelchair securement systems to large or slower-moving vehicles, such as large intra-city transit buses. Based on this comment, the orientation requirement for wheelchair securement systems has been revised in the final rule. Section T603.2 establishes a general requirement that wheelchair securement systems must be front facing. A new exception to T603.2 permits rear-facing securement systems “on large non-rail vehicles designed for use by both seated and standing passengers,” provided that at least one other wheelchair securement system is front facing.
Two commenters also suggested that the Access Board clarify (or define) what “normal operating conditions” means in the context of the requirement that wheelchair securement systems limit movement of occupied wheelchairs. See 2010 NPRM, T403.4 (providing that wheelchair securement systems must limit movement of occupied wheelchairs when, among other things, “the vehicle is operating in normal conditions”). In the 2010 NPRM, the text of this proposed section was accompanied by an advisory that states, in pertinent part: “Normal operating conditions are specific to the area where the vehicle operates. Vehicles that operate in hilly terrain or on winding roads will have more severe constraints than those operating in flat areas.” See 2010 NPRM, Advisory T403.4 Movement. These advisory materials are posted on the Access Board’s website.17 A similar advisory will accompany the text of T603.4 in the final rule, and will also be available on the agency’s website.
Additionally, a few commenters responded to Question 15 in the 2010 NPRM, which sought input on whether the Access Board should address four safety-related matters in subsequent rulemakings. See 2010 NPRM, 75 FR at 43753-54, Question No. 15. These recommendations related to: potential incorporation of forthcoming standards on wheelchair tiedown and occupant restraint systems used in motor vehicles (SAE Recommended Practice J2249 (June 1999)), wheelchair securement systems in small non-rail vehicles, movement under emergency driving conditions, and rear-facing compartmentalization.18 Several commenters, including a joint comment submitted by a consortium of two transportation research centers, recommended that the Access Board should adopt the standards in SAE Recommended Practice J2249 (June 1999) for front-facing wheelchair securement systems. Several other commenters expressed views on compartmentalization of rear-facing wheelchair positions. A large transit agency encouraged the Access Board to consider addressing specifications for rear-facing compartmentalization, which, it believes, offers the benefits of increasing independent access, reducing occupational hazards for vehicle operators, and reduces dwell times. Two other commenters, including a disability rights organization and a transportation research center, noted safety concerns and a need for further study.
The Access Board appreciates the input provided by these commenters on these areas, and will take their views under advisement in future rulemakings concerning transportation vehicles.
H. Chapter 7: Communication Features
Chapter 7 in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines establishes technical requirements for characters on signs, the International Symbol of Accessibility, and vehicular announcement systems. With the exception of requirements addressing announcement systems in T704, this chapter has been neither reorganized nor substantively changed from the proposed rule. Section T704 in the final rule has been reorganized and editorially revised to improve clarity; these modifications, however, did not materially alter its terms. We received no comments on two of the three sections in Chapter 7—namely, Signs (T702) and International Symbol of Accessibility (T703)—and so these sections are not addressed below.
T704 Announcement Systems
The technical requirements for announcement systems include provisions on automated route identification announcement systems, automated stop announcement systems, and stop request systems. These requirements are intended to ensure that passengers with disabilities have the critical information needed to make public bus transportation systems accessible, usable, and safe for independent use by persons with disabilities.
Stop request systems must provide audible and visible notification onboard the non-rail vehicle indicating that a passenger has requested to disembark at the next stop. See T704.3. Audible notifications may be verbal or non-verbal signals, while visible notifications must include either signs (complying with T702), lights, or other visually perceptible indicators. Id. There are also specifications addressing when stop request notifications must extinguish. Id. Parts on stop request systems intended for passenger use must comply with the technical requirements for operable parts (T304), including height, location, and ease of use. The technical requirement in the final rule for stop request systems on buses and vans are similar to the existing guidelines. See 36 CFR 1192.37. At the request of a transit agency, the final rule does clarify that a mechanism for requesting stops must be located within reach of each wheelchair and priority seat. See T704.3.2.
Automated announcement systems must also provide both audible and visible notifications. See T704.2, T704.4. Automated route identification systems must audibly and visibly identify the route on which the bus is operating. Automated stop announcement systems must provide audible and visible notification of upcoming stops on fixed routes. For both types of automated announcement systems, audible messages must be delivered using synthesized, recorded or digitized speech. For stop announcement systems, such messages must be audible within the bus, while, for route announcement systems, audible messages must be broadcasted externally at boarding and alighting areas. With respect to visible components, route identification systems are required to provide signs displaying route information on the front and boarding sides of the vehicle. For stop announcement systems, signs must be provided onboard and be viewable from all wheelchair spaces and priority seats. (Signs for each type of automated announcement system must also comply with T702.)
The vast majority of comments received in response to the Access Board’s proposed requirements for automated announcement systems in the 2010 NPRM related to the scoping for these requirements (i.e., automated announcement systems must be provided by large transit agencies that operate 100 or more buses in annual maximum service in fixed route bus modes), rather than the technical specifications for such systems. Comments related to the scoping requirements for automated announcement systems are addressed at length in Section III (Major Issues) and IV (Summary of Comments and Responses on Other Aspects of the Proposed Rule – Chapter 2: Scoping Requirements).
Several commenters, including a public transportation organization, a transit agency, and individuals with disabilities, recommended that the Access Board include standards for the volume or quality (clarity) of audible components of automated announcement systems in the final rule. Other commenters, while not specifically opining on audibility standards, noted that the volume of announcements can sometimes be inconsistent or need adjustment in real-time to account for ambient noise.
While the Access Board shares these commenters’ view that the audibility of stop and route information is a critical aspect of announcement systems, we are not aware of any national standards that would provide clear, objective, and consistent measures to assess compliance. Indeed, in the 2010 NPRM, the Board requested information on standards for audio quality that could be referenced in the final rule or, in the alternative, recommended in advisory materials. See 2010 NPRM, 75 FR at 43754 (Question 19). No commenters suggested or cited any referenceable standards for audio quality. Absent such standards, the Board declines at this time to include specifications for audio volume or quality in the technical requirements for automated announcement systems. However, should referenceable standards for audio quality of announcements in public transportation vehicles be developed, the Board will certainly consider referencing such standards in future rulemakings. Additionally, when DOT initiates its own rulemaking process to adopt these revised guidelines as enforceable standards for buses, OTRBs, and vans, it may find that inclusion of programmatic standards for announcement audibility (which are beyond the Board’s jurisdiction) would be both appropriate and useful.
With respect to the requirement that automated stop announcement systems must have signage viewable onboard from all wheelchair spaces and priority seats, APTA expressed concerns about the cost of providing signs for rear-facing wheelchair positions. For several reasons, we do not believe that, in practice, such signs will pose a significant expense. First, rear-facing wheelchair spaces are not required by the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines. Rather, the default orientation for wheelchair spaces is front facing, with the rear-facing position being an exception permitted only on certain large non-rail vehicles so long as at least one wheelchair securement system is front facing. See T603.2. Second, while rear-facing wheelchair spaces are prevalent throughout Europe and Canada, they are still relatively uncommon in the United States. Only a handful of transit agencies employ rear-facing wheelchair spaces for bus transit, and, when used, it is generally on bus rapid transit systems. Together, these considerations augur against significant costs for provision of stop announcements signs for rear-facing wheelchair spaces. Moreover, we believe it is beneficial for non-rail vehicles with any rear-facing passengers to provide this important communication feature.