Dear Madam Chair and Board Members:
The Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (METRO) is pleased to offer comments on the proposed draft revisions to the ADA Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles. This comment has been adopted by METRO's Board of Directors, which consists of eleven elected and non-elected representatives from throughout the County of Santa Cruz in California.
METRO is a small-sized public transportation agency with an annual operating budget of approximately $37 million. It provides fixed-route bus service and paratransit service throughout the County of Santa Cruz and its regional area. METRO has demonstrated a strong commitment to providing accessible fixed route and paratransit services throughout its history. METRO was one of the leaders in the nation in advocating for lift equipped fixed-route buses. From 1978 to the present, METRO has only purchased buses that were lift or ramp equipped. This action was before the requirements imposed by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) by twelve years. Indeed, METRO was one of the first public transportation agencies to have a fully accessible fleet in the United States.
METRO utilizes 113 accessible buses in its fixed-route service. In 2002, METRO implemented Talking Bus Technology on its fixed route fleet and utilizes it to the maximum extent possible by programming it to call out each bus stop that is at least 600 feet from the preceding bus stop. Approximately 6 million annual trips are provided by METRO's fixed route service, including a substantial portion of trips that are taken by people with disabilities.
Approximately 10% of METRO's annual budget is utilized to fund its paratransit service known as METRO ParaCruz. METRO ParaCruz' shared-ride service performs approximately 84,000 rides annually. It is operated in compliance with the ADA and its implementing regulations. Through a local planning process, it was determined that the Santa Cruz County community would best be served through the utilization of door-to-door paratransit service. METRO ParaCruz provides same-day, will-call trips (open
return) for its riders. In addition to making eligibility decisions within seven days instead of the required 21 days, METRO ParaCruz also authorizes temporary eligibility on an immediate needs basis.
METRO's bus and van operators are specifically and periodically trained on all accessible-related equipment. METRO involves members of the community with disabilities in the training classes to ensure that bus and van operators are sensitive to passenger needs. METRO's maintenance personnel maintain the fleet including the accessible features.
METRO's Board of Directors monitors METRO's fixed route and ParaCruz service on a monthly basis through various Ridership Reports including a Report on Passenger Lift/Ramp Problems, Dropped Service and ParaCruz Operating Statistics. In its most recent report, the ParaCruz service showed that for the month of February 2007, it scheduled 7367 rides and actually performed 6277 rides traveling over 40,000 miles with 742 distinct riders utilizing the service. It performed rides within the "ready window" 90% of the time and only 8 rides were late or missed altogether. METRO ParaCruz service does not deny trips to eligible customers who call to book a ride for next-day service.
METRO sustains its high ridership, by providing good customer service. METRO works hard to sustain viable fixed-route and paratransit services for the community it serves and continues to meet or exceed the requirements of the ADA and its implementing regulations.
The proposed draft revisions to the ADA Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles have been reviewed with METRO's Board of Directors who submit the following comments:
1. Revisions to the Guidelines must Specifically Apply Prospectively Only
The proposed revisions include significant modifications to the transportation vehicles utilized by transit operators providing fixed route and paratransit services. METRO's current fleet consists of 113 accessible buses, 29 accessible vans, and 5 accessible mid-size buses. METRO's entire fleet meets the current, published accessibility standards as set forth in the ADA and its implementing regulations. Additionally, METRO is in the process of purchasing 13 accessible fixed route buses, 2 accessible vans and 1 accessible mid-size bus. Contracts for these vehicles have been executed, the funds have been committed and the manufacturers are in the process of complying with the contract specifications, which were based on the current applicable accessible standards. METRO has expended millions of federal, state and local dollars to purchase and maintain its fleet in accordance with the current accessible standards. While federal regulations authorize a 12- year service life for the fixed route buses, METRO's buses are generally coaxed into an actual life span of at least 15 years and each of METRO's vans has a life span of 5 years and the mid-size buses have a 7-year life span. Should any of the proposed revisions to the
accessibility requirements to the transportation vehicles become effective, METRO's entire fleet would be rendered inaccessible unless the revisions are deemed prospective only.
METRO recommends that any adopted revisions to accessible standards for transit vehicles include the phrase "purchased after (date)". This would allow all currently owned or contractually purchased vehicles to come under the current accessible standards. Additionally, the Access Board must insure that any vehicle modifications become effective only after the bus/van manufacturers have demonstrated their actual ability to construct the vehicles in accordance with any new mandates.
If the new accessibility standards are implemented prospectively, the Access Board should consider working with other federal and state agencies to provide guidance and assistance regarding how METRO can manage its fleet of vehicles when some will be accessible under the old regulations and some will be accessible under the new regulations. METRO's customers will undoubtedly expect to be able to navigate throughout the fixed route system or the paratransit system on any given day at any given time and place, when in actuality depending on the size and type of the mobility device utilized, some of the vehicles in service will not meet the "new" accessible standards and, therefore, may not be accessible to individuals with newer and larger mobility devices. A thoughtful, workable, and financially prudent transition plan is necessary if the proposed modifications are to be implemented. Conflict or denied service at the point of access serves no one.
2. The definition of "common wheelchair" should not be eliminated from the guidelines.
The proposed revisions eliminate the definition of a "common wheelchair", in favor of clarifying the minimum width, length and height envelope, which must be available within the vehicle for it to be deemed accessible.
METRO urges the Board to retain the definition of the "common wheelchair". Public transit agencies, passengers and the taxpayers need certainty in the procurement of the vehicles they operate. Public transit operators expend hundreds of thousands in public dollars for the purchase of transit buses that are generally used for at least 12 years and often 15 years or more in active transit service. METRO's current fleet and the transportation vehicles it has under contract are all designed, manufactured and maintained utilizing the "common wheelchair" definition. Removing the definition provides wheelchair and mobility device manufacturers with no incentive to insure that their customers can actually access the public transportation vehicles that currently meet the accessible standards.
Additionally, rather than eliminate the definition of "common wheelchair" from the guidelines, METRO urges the Board to work with the federal and state agencies that fund/regulate wheelchair/scooter purchases to disseminate the "common wheelchair" definition and public transit's difficulty and depending on the size of the device the inability to carry wheelchairs/scooters that do not meet this definition. Indeed, this is especially important considering Executive Order 13330 and the coordination mandates under SAFETE-LU. Requiring wheelchair/scooter manufacturers, distributors and sellers to provide their customers with an "informed consent" which sets forth that the purchase of a wheelchair/scooter that does not meet the "common wheelchair" definition may preclude it from being transported on all or at least some of the public transportation vehicles utilized would assist with the dissemination of this information. Further, a manufacturer should be required not only to label each wheelchair/scooter it builds as to whether it meets the "common wheelchair" definition but also to notify the public in any advertisement or informational brochure as to whether or not it meets the definition and the significance of this definition.
METRO cannot support the elimination of the definition of the "common wheelchair" from the guidelines. METRO must be able to anticipate the dimensions of the mobility devices it will carry before it meets its rider at the point of service if it truly intends to provide accessible service. Ensuring that the user has the necessary information on what mobility devices can or cannot be carried on public transportation is critical to ensuring accessibility of transit services.
3. The wheelchair maneuvering space in a vehicle should not be modified.
The proposed revisions define the existing phrase "sufficient clearances to permit a wheelchair or other mobility aid user to reach securement locations" by including the requirement for a path of travel to each securement location as having a 36" minimum width. (This 36" minimum width is inconsistent with the recently updated building requirements in which the path of travel was set at 32".) The new revisions would also require that where a turn is required, sufficient maneuvering space would be required that would allow a wheelchair or mobility device having a width of 30 inches maximum and a length of 48 inches maximum to turn with a minimum of back-and-forth movement.
These new requirements could result in the bus manufacturers being required to implement rear door only boarding designs to meet the proposed specifications. METRO believes that rear door boarding will create fare box and security issues and, most importantly, will relegate passengers with disabilities to "second class" status. This "second class" status will defeat the equal access and mainstreaming goals of the ADA. METRO urges the Access Board to explore and determine whether the bus manufacturers can, indeed, incorporate these proposals into a bus with front door access before the proposals themselves are implemented.
4. The wheelchair securement location length should not be modified from 48" to 60".
The expanded securement location length requirement would result in the loss of seating in fixed route buses probably from seating currently designated as for the elderly and those with disabilities. In the mini-vans, commonly used in paratransit service, the expanded securement area would pose a hazard to non-wheelchair passengers with disabilities and to personal care attendants. Indeed, it is doubtful that the securement area could even be expanded in the mini-vans to meet the proposed requirement.
5. The ramp angle allowed from the ground should not be reduced from 1:4 to 1:8.
The draft guidelines propose to set the maximum ramp slope at 1:8 in all cases, including when deployed to the roadway. While steep ramps can be problematic, no research or data has been provided to indicate that 1:4 angle, the current standard, has in fact been problematic. Indeed, the current federal regulations require the bus operators to assist the passengers in the use of the ramps. Additionally, no evidence has been provided to establish that a slope of 1:8 is the only method that should be used in all cases.
The lack of standard sidewalk widths and set backs would require new ramps to be constructed as either bi-fold or tri-fold ramps. METRO is not convinced that such ramps are constructible by bus manufacturers or can be constructed at a reasonable cost. More research and study should take place before this proposal would be implemented. If the 1:8 angle is adopted, METRO believes that significant bus stop modifications would be required to facilitate the deployment of longer ramps.
6. The P.A. system should not be deleted in favor of requiring automated stop announcement system.
In 2002, METRO determined that it was in its best interests and the best interests of its customers and the Santa Cruz community to utilize federal and state funding for the purchase of an automated stop announcement system for its fixed route buses. METRO utilizes the stop announcement system so that every bus stop is announced throughout its service area as long as it is at least 600 feet from the preceding bus stop. However, METRO's bus operators must make certain bus stop announcements orally when, for whatever reason, the automated bus stop announcement system fails. METRO's bus operators utilize the microphone of the public address system to make the required announcements. If METRO is required to remove the public address system including the microphone, METRO's bus operators may be unable to be heard throughout the bus when they are required to make the bus stop announcements when the automated stop announcement system fails. This would result in the bus having to be removed from service when a failure occurs which would be expensive and cause unnecessary delays in the delivery of service.
METRO encourages the Access Board to engage in more research and study before implementing modifications to the guidelines. Sufficient rationale for the proposed modifications has not been produced and it is not clear that they would work in any event. While some modifications may be necessary, adding confusion at the point of access to the service is self-defeating and unwarranted. The better plan is to truly engage the transit industry, the transportation vehicle and wheelchair and mobility device manufacturers and the public transit ridership in the discussion of appropriate accessibility standards for public transportation vehicles. METRO would certainly want to participate in those discussions.
Very truly yours,
Chair, METRO Board of Directors