Dear Mr. Cannon:
Please accept the following comments regarding the draft changes to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles, 36 CFR Part 1192. I am the Transportation Director for Finney County Transit which is located in rural southwest Kansas. We are the only public transit provider in our county, which is larger geographically than the state of Rhode Island. I serve on the Southwest Kansas Area Agency on Aging Board of Directors which covers one fourth of the state of Kansas including the 28 counties in rural southwest Kansas. I also serve as the chairperson for Coordinated Transit District #15 which encompasses the 19 counties in far southwest Kansas. Of the 19 counties we have 8 of them that don’t have federally funded transit providers (Sections 5310 and 5311) located in them. All but two of the counties have extremely limited service.
We held a Transportation Coordination Summit here in Garden City just last week to begin developing a local plan to improve transportation within these rural counties and cities. The preliminary results showed a desire by the 53 participants representing all but two of the 19 counties to develop a regional transportation office that could provide enhanced dispatching thereby coordinating trips both within the communities and to urban areas for medical and shopping trips. During the course of the day we discussed these proposed rule changes and would like to share with you some of the concerns raised.
If the rules are adopted, any vehicle that is not compliant will be non-accessible, per the ADA. This would effectively eliminate transportation in Kansas as none of the existing fleet would be compliant and none of the providers or the state has the funding to replace their fleet with compliant vehicles. Even our paratransit fleet does not meet these new rules. It would not be possible to retrofit our buses either due to the size limitations of the chassis. I recently ordered three new buses for an expansion project with the City of Garden City to include new fixed city routes. I was told by the up-fitter I had to remove one of the energy absorbing bumpers from my specs because it made the vehicle exceed the weight limit. This is with five double seats removed to allow for three wheelchair tie down locations and a lift. To purchase a vehicle chassis heavy enough to accommodate the new rules would require we upgrade from the size we currently retrofit that cost about $55,000 per bus up to chassis costing about $150,000 each according to the KDOT rep at our meeting. We currently have many providers requesting replacement vehicles each year that do not get funded due to limited federal and state dollars. It takes at least 1 ½ years to receive a new bus through the KDOT procurement process and that’s if you get prioritized to receive one.
The change in the current definition of a common wheelchair to require we accommodate any device that will fit on the bus is also cause for great concern. We currently have a passenger that has a homemade device made of PVC pipe with a cloth sling for the back and seat and caster type wheels with push down levers similar to rolling cart wheels. When the drivers attempt to tighten the Q Straint straps to secure it the device flexes and threatens to come apart. Because of the flexing the device does not remain tight as the vehicle moves, thereby allowing the device to move. It is difficult to maneuver within the bus to turn it forward facing and in the event of an accident would most likely break and come apart risking not only this passenger, but the other passengers and driver that they will be catapulted into. If the passenger is injured our insurance company would be responsible, thereby raising our rates and putting us at risk of going out of business. This one passenger puts at risk all the transportation we provide to the 15,000 passengers we transport each year.
The requirement to equip all vehicles longer than 22’ with automated stop identification systems that include both visual and audio announcements would require all vehicles be equipped with GPS at considerable cost to providers and the state. At a time when many counties don’t have any service or very limited it concerns us to be required to dedicate the few dollars we have to GPS in lieu of additional vehicles to provide more citizens an opportunity to access services. Additionally, the personalized service that is provided to the passengers, particularly in rural areas currently meets this need without this requirement. The drivers are very service oriented and interact with each passenger to discover their destination and assist them in arriving in a safe timely fashion, generally right up to the door.
The requirement that all vehicles have handholds on the tops of all transit seats, doorways and clear pathways to the securement location that is at least 36” wide and 56”/68” height depending on the length of the vehicle leaves nearly every current full size transit vehicle and all mini-vans non-compliant eliminating transportation opportunities for untold numbers of people as would the requirement for increasing the weight limit for ramps and lifts to at least 660 lbs. and the increase in securement location dimensions to a minimum of 60” long. We already lose ten seats for securement locations and lifts bringing us down to seating for 10 out of the original 20 seats available, thereby limiting the seating capacity for all other passengers.
While I am sure the intent of the proposal was to improve transportation service, it would indeed have the opposite effect as it would put the vast majority of transit providers out of business. Many transit services are already in jeopardy due to the increase in fuel and personnel costs as well as the increasingly burdensome reporting requirements in the federal programs. Many are administered by part time retired volunteers that are finding the rules and regulations to be too much for them. Our fear is that this will be the final straw and we would see a mass reduction in transportation service if implemented.
Therefore, I respectfully request that you reconsider the guidelines and at the very least make them effective only for vehicles manufactured after a date far enough in the future to allow all current providers to replace their fleet through the DOT procurement process. Additionally we recommend that an effort is made to work with mobility device manufacturers and users to raise awareness of the risks involved in utilizing devices that are not designed for transit, but rather for use in the home. The devices do not undergo Altoona crash testing and do not have any member on their frames suitable for securing in transit, making them a risk to them and their fellow passengers and not suitable for use in transit. Instead of encouraging more use of these devices by loosening the rules, I recommend we increase the requirement much like we do for child and infant seats which must be tested as safe before being used in transit. Small rural fleets should be removed from these requirements and hardship cases should be exempt. Throughout my 25 year tenure in transportation it has become evident that one size does not fit all, especially in transit. On behalf of the transit providers who have worked and will continue to work to provide a safe dependable ride I thank you for considering these recommendations which would allow us to continue to operate.
Bonnie L. Burgardt
Finney County Committee on Aging, Inc. Transportation Director
CTD #15 Chairperson
SWKAAA Board of Directors Member
907 N. 10th St.
Garden City, KS 67846