347 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10017-3739
212 878-7160 Tel
212 878-7050 Fax
Christopher P. Boylan
Corporate and Community Affairs
MTA Metropolitan Transportation Authority
State of New York
June 11, 2007
Mr. Dennis Cannon
Office of Technical and informational Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board 1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-11111
Re: Comments to Access Board Docket No. 2007-1
36 C.F.R. Part 1192
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles
Dear Mr. Cannon:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”), a New York State public benefit corporation and its subsidiary and affiliated transportation operating agencies (collectively “MTA Agencies”), submit these comments to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (hereinafter the “Access Board”) in response to the request for comments on the draft revisions to subparts A & B of 36 C.F.R. Part 1192, which provides accessibility guidelines for transportation vehicles, including buses and vans.
The MTA is a public-benefit corporation chartered by the New York State legislature in 1965. Through its operating agencies, the MTA coordinates the planning and general policy direction of most of the public transportation serving the New York City metropolitan region. The MTA approves operating and capital budgets and performance plans, carries out the financing of capital programs, and monitors financial and operating activities. Six of the agencies serve the public by providing transportation services and implementing capital construction projects. The seventh, MTA Capital Construction Company, oversees construction of MTA security projects, manages major capital expansion and downtown Manhattan transit infrastructure projects.
The MTA operates its services through the following affiliated and subsidiary agencies:
The MTA’s vast transportation network, North America’s largest, serves a population of 14.8 million people in the 5,000-square-mile area from New York City through Long Island, southeastern New York State, and Connecticut. Through its operating agencies, the MTA moves more than 2.5 billion passengers a year – about one in every three users of mass transit in the United States and two-thirds of the nation’s rail riders. In addition to operating the largest commuter rail and subway systems in the country, MTA’s bus fleet is comprised of 5,000 local and express buses as well as more than 1,800 paratransit vehicles, most of which are vans or small buses.
The MTA Agencies appreciate the opportunity to comment on the draft revisions to the Access Board guidelines in advance of the issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking. Of particular concern to the MTA Agencies are the following issues: (1) the removal of the definition of “common wheelchair,” (2) increasing the design loads of lifts, ramps and bridgeplates from 600 lbs to 660 lbs, (3) decreasing the allowable slope of ramps to 1:8 when deployed, and (4) requiring a route from the boarding area of buses to the securement location with “clear width” of at least 36 inches. As explained in further detail below, these changes are either not technically feasible or simply do not take into account the practical realities transit entities such as the MTA Agencies face in urban transit settings. In some cases, the proposed revisions simply ignore the essentially fixed dimensions of buses currently used in revenue service.
The Access Board states that it has no authority to regulate wheelchairs or mobility aids and for this reason has proposed removing the definition of “common wheelchair” from the Access Board guidelines. According to the Board, the inclusion of the definition of “common wheelchair” within its guidelines was misunderstood and misused. The MTA Agencies understand that the Access Board intended the definition to be used for informational purposes only. However, having a definition serves to provide transportation agencies with parameters to facilitate design and provides customers with the ability to purchase a mobility aid that they know will be able to be transported on public transportation because it meets the definition. Such a device would not only fit within the available space and path of travel, but the customer could be assured the securement device would be able to accommodate it.
We understand that the Access Board’s proposed removal of the definition of “common wheelchair” anticipates an expected revision to the definition of “wheelchair” contained in Part 37 of the regulations promulgated by the Department of Transportation (“DOT”). While we appreciate the need for consistency within the guidelines, we are very seriously concerned about the practical effect removal of the definition of “common wheelchair” will have on transit agencies generally and the MTA Agencies in particular. Of principal concern is the limited guidance that is provided to transit agencies, wheelchair and mobility-aid users, as well as manufacturers, about the kinds and sizes of wheelchairs and mobility-aids that are appropriate (i.e. can reasonably be accommodated) for public transit vehicles. This lack of guidance has, in part, led to the manufacture of larger and heavier powered wheelchairs and other mobility aids which, in many cases, cannot be boarded or safely secured on transit vehicles.
In particular, the use of three-wheeled scooters, increasingly larger and heavier powered chairs, and other types of mobility aids that were not specifically designed with public transportation use as a principal function but nevertheless are permitted to board, has led to substantial problems. These problems include accidents with significant injuries due to the inability of any one securement system on a bus to secure many varieties of wheelchairs and due to the tipping propensity of many of the three-wheeled scooters resulting from their design. These non-traditional wheelchairs, scooters and mobility aids also limit the ability to change interior bus configurations or to purchase certain buses that are desirable for overall transportation reasons but whose interior configurations cannot accommodate the ever-larger turning radius needed by these mobility aids to travel from the boarding location to the securement location. The weight of the larger powered wheelchairs increases the frequency of lift maintenance and repair, which also means that buses are more frequently out of service, thus increasing the costs of accessible service beyond the initial added expense of accessible lifts or ramps.
In addition, if the trend toward larger or differently-shaped mobility aids continues, it is not clear how they will be accommodated by transit agencies. Disabled persons who wish to travel by bus and rail public transportation must be willing to demand appropriate mobility aids from the manufacturers. The government in general, and DOT and the Access Board in particular, as well as the wheelchair-using disability community and the public transit industry should be devoting their efforts, through lobbying, legislation, regulation, or medical reimbursement policies (Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance) to inducing the mobility aid manufacturing industry to design a “public transportation wheelchair” that fits within the current definition of “common wheelchair” and has the safety features necessary to permit safe bus and train transportation when using the mobility aid, including effective universal securement.
In short, the MTA Agencies consider the removal of the definition of “common Wheelchair” from the guidelines to be a step in the wrong direction. While we appreciate the need to ensure maximum accessibility for disabled and mobility-impaired passengers and are likewise sensitive to the Access Board’s apparent concern that some transit properties are mistakenly excluding some disabled and mobility impaired passengers on the basis of the definition contained in the guidelines, we also believe that the disabled community, as well as transit agencies, would be better served by retaining the current definition and providing additional clarification of the definition to make clear that transit agencies are expected to ensure access to their vehicles by all who may reasonably be accommodated. In addition, we urge the Access Board to provide further guidance on the kinds of wheelchairs and mobility aids that transit agencies are reasonably expected to accommodate, keeping in mind that transit agencies are facing increasing difficulties in boarding certain types of devices and are constrained by the size of passenger compartments of mixed-use transit buses and vans which have essentially fixed spaces and limited types of configurations.
Before increasing the design load for lifts and ramps, the Access Board should be mindful that existing buses and their ancillary equipment (lifts, ramps, floor, restraints) were designed to accommodate and transport wheelchairs that weigh no more than 600 lbs. These buses will continue to be in revenue service for up to 12 years beyond the publication date of the revised guidelines. Because these “legacy” buses and vans can only reasonably accommodate wheelchairs and mobility aids that reach 600 lbs, the revised guidelines must address this issue. In addition, research must be done to determine that there are no other potential safety or other operational concerns to be addressed before increasing the design loads of lifts, ramps, and bridgeplates. The Access Board has itself not provided any research on these matters. An additional concern is that currently transit vehicles are designed to meet standards issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA"), which, as the Board itself notes, has prescribed testing standards based upon the 600 lbs. requirement. Any change to design loads of lifts, ramps, and bridgeplates must be accomplished in consultation with NHTSA and be consistent with revisions to the NHTSA testing standards which takes account of an increased design load. Until these steps are taken, the design load of lifts, ramps, and bridgeplates should not be increased.
The Access Board proposal to decrease the allowable slope for ramps and bridgeplates to 1:8 ignores the practical realities of urban transit settings and also the expressed desire of the disabled community generally to access vehicles through the front door.
Wheelchair lifts, used primarily on high-floor buses, are complicated devices that historically are difficult to maintain in good working order. Failure of a lift to deploy results frequently in considerable delays for all passengers and unnecessarily subjects disabled/mobility-impaired passengers to unwelcome attention. In consideration of these issues, most buses sold today have low-floor designs and employ front-door loading ramps instead of rear-door lifts. The disabled community, in consideration of having its constituents treated as all other customers, has long supported the transition to low-floor buses.
Wheelchair access to a low-floor bus is gained by traversing a simple ramp (and in some cases a “bridgeplate”) through the front or rear door. The Access Board’s proposal to decrease the allowable slope for ramps and bridgeplates to 1:8 would pose several serious challenges. First, the floor height of low-floor buses is approximately 15 inches above the ground. The base footprint of a ramp capable of reaching 15 inches with a slope of 1:8 is 120 inches or ten feet in length. It is wholly impractical to use a 10 foot ramp in an urban setting such as New York City. A ramp projecting 10 feet out onto a sidewalk (which is typically not more than 11 feet wide) would be extremely hazardous, significantly increasing the likelihood of accidents and the potential for injuries to pedestrians.
MTA NYC Transit employs a simple powered, single-platform, flip-over ramp located in the front door that has proved reliable and can be manually deployed and stowed with ease, in the event it fails to operate. The current design permits the bus operator to remain seated at the controls of the bus, facilitating quick boarding of wheelchair users. Additionally, in the event the ramp fails to deploy there is no need to call for emergency road-side assistance since the ramp can be manually deployed and stowed. In their current configurations, the ramps of these low-floor buses conform to the specified slope of 1:4 when extended to street level.
It is simply not possible to stow a non-folding ramp or bridgeplate that is 120 inches long in a bus with a maximum width of only 102 inches. For this reason, it would be necessary to devise a ramp with a minimum of three folding sections. This feature in turn would require that additional complex mechanisms be incorporated for deployment and stowage, which would likely reduce the reliability of the ramp (one of the principal reasons MTA NYC Transit moved away from high-floor buses with rear door lifts). Even more challenging is the Access Board’s proposal that power-operated ramps be capable of manual deployment. A bridgeplate/ramp 10 feet long (and capable of withstanding a 660 lb load) would almost assuredly be impossible for all but the strongest drivers to lift, set up, and stow in the event there was a loss of power to the ramp.
For all of these reasons, the Access Board’s proposal poses too may operational hurdles that cannot likely be overcome. It is urged that the slope requirements contained in existing ADAAG guidelines remain unchanged.
The Access Board’s proposal to include a specific measurable requirement for the path of travel of a wheelchair of 36 inches from the boarding area to the securement location is not workable based upon the width of buses which, at 102 inches, can accommodate only a limited number of interior configurations and none that can accomplish a 36 inch “clear width” route. Essentially, this requirement is trading off the 36 inch clear width route against the desired low-floor buses with front-door ramp access. Even with high floor buses it would be difficult to accommodate a 36" path of travel and seating would undoubtedly have to be reduced. For example, on the hybrid low-floor buses currently in operation at NYC Transit, fixtures such as wheel wells cannot be altered to provide more clearance nor can the free arc radius of entrances be modified to meet the proposed “clear width” of 36 inches minimum. The attached photographs (figures 1 and 2) demonstrate that current entrance configurations of Orion VII hybrid buses have, at their narrowest point, a turning radius of approximately 34 inches. In addition, the width of the aisle of the passenger compartment is 35 inches between the wheel wells; the clear width as one approaches the fare box from the bus entrance reaches only 33 ½ inches. These dimensions are fixed and no amount of redesign of interior bus configurations will accomplish even slight increases, never mind the 36 inch “clear width” proposed by the Access Board. Similarly, the smaller paratransit vehicles also can not accommodate a 36" path of travel.
For all of the above reasons, the proposed requirement that buses have a route from the boarding area to the securement location with a “clear width” of 36 inches minimum is technically infeasible. At best, transit agencies may be able to accommodate a route with a “clear width” to the securement area of no more than 32 inches on buses or 34" on paratransit vehicles.
The Access Board has proposed a requirement that transit agencies replace the use of public address systems or recorded or digitized human speech messages to announce stops with an automated announcement system. While the MTA Agencies do not object in principal to this requirement, we recommend that this change be phased-in over a period of several years in consideration of the technological as well as funding constraints that impact this substantial change to the guidelines. The MTA Agencies are currently engaged in a pilot program using a Service Management and Customer Information System (“SMCIS”) which will provide stop announcements in both visual and audible format. In fact, implementation of this technology has begun at one MTA NYC Transit bus depot (with 191 vehicles) on a trial basis. It is expected that a phased installation of the technology will begin sometime this calendar year (on a pilot basis) but it will be several years before the technology is available for a system-wide roll-out. As with any new technology, before system-wide roll out of the system can begin it must be demonstrated that the system is reliable and fully-compliant with ADA requirements. In addition, funding sources for a more expanded roll-out must be secured. For these reasons, any requirement for an automated stop announcement system should be phased in over a period of no less than five years to ensure that transit agencies can reasonably meet milestones for a complete, efficient and fully-functional system-wide roll-out.
METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY
By: Christopher Boylan
Deputy Executive Director
The agencies of the MTA, Peter S. Kalikow, Chairman:
MTA New York City Transit; MTA Long Island Bus; MTA Bridges and Tunnels
MTA Long Island Rail Road; MTA Metro-North Railroad; MTA Capital Construction