July 5, 2007
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION & REGULAR MAIL
Office of Technical and Informational Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street, N.W., Suite 1000
Washington, D.C. 20004-1111
Re: Comments on the Proposed Revisions to 36 CFR Part 1192
Dear Docket Clerk:
By this letter, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) offers its comments on the draft revisions to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board’s (Access Board) Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility guidelines for transportation vehicles. The Access Board proposed those revisions in an April 11, 2007 Federal Register notice.
RTC is a regional governmental agency that performs many transportation activities within the Southern Nevada community. As the primary public entity responsible for the provision of transit and paratransit services in Clark County, RTC owns a fleet of approximately 550 revenue service vehicles that are used in contractor-provided transportation services. As a consequence of its fleet size, the proposed revisions to Part 1192 of Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) could significantly impact RTC.
1. Effective Date of Revisions
The procurement and manufacturing processes for new transit vehicles can take months and, in some instances, years. The Access Board’s proposal to replace the current performance-based accessibility guidelines with guidelines which set out specific measurements of accessibility represents a material alteration in approach. While RTC generally supports the move away from performance-based accessibility guidelines, the change in approach is likely to result in requests from manufacturers for time to redesign compliant vehicles. As a result, there may be some significant lag time between the issuance of the revised guidelines and the ability of manufacturers to meet the new guidelines. Moreover, the issuance of the final revisions will inevitably catch some transit agencies in various stages of the procurement, contract or delivery processes. There will be transit agencies in the process of procuring or receiving delivery of vehicles that would have complied with the version of Part 1192 that was in effect when the transit agencies issued their invitations for bids or requests for proposals, but that do not comply with the new guidelines.
To address these potential problems, RTC suggests that the Access Board: (1) delay the effective date of the new guidelines by a period sufficient to allow manufacturers the opportunity to redesign their vehicles; and (2) expressly indicate that transit agencies are not required to apply the revised guidelines to vehicles procured pursuant to invitations for bids or requests for proposals issued prior to the effective date of the revised guidelines.
2. Definition of “Common Wheelchair”
In the April 11, 2007 notice, the Access Board proposes to abandon the definition of “common wheelchair.” If the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) were to follow suit and abandon the definition of “wheelchair” set out in Section 37.3 of Part 37 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Government would be creating an extraordinarily difficult operational problem for transit agencies.
Under current guidelines, revenue vehicles are designed to accommodate passengers who use “common wheelchairs.” By removing the definitions of “common wheelchair” and “wheelchair,” the Federal Government would be requiring transit authorities to provide transportation to individuals who use mobility devices without regard to the length, width or weight of those devices. While Section 1192.21(c) of the revised guidelines indicates that vehicles need not be designed to accommodate wheelchairs or mobility devices that exceed 30 inches in width, 48 inches in length and 660 pounds in weight when occupied, the regulations do not afford transit authorities any flexibility in the provision of service to passengers who use wheelchairs that exceed any of those measurements as long as those passengers can somehow make their way to a securement area. The Access Board appears to acknowledge the likelihood of oversized wheelchairs when it asks about the safety implications of accommodating a 700 pound wheelchair when barriers are only designed to contain 600 pounds.
It should be emphasized that RTC currently makes reasonable efforts to accommodate passengers who use mobility devices that exceed the current definition of “common wheelchair” in both our fixed route and paratransit services. However, as a practical matter, existing accessible buses are limited in the ability to accommodate oversized mobility devices. As a result, passengers who RTC may be able to accommodate in vehicles manufactured in compliance with the new guidelines may not be able to access existing vehicles. A passenger in an oversized mobility device may be able to begin a bus trip successfully on a new vehicle but be unable to continue that trip at a transfer point because the bus for the second leg of the trip was purchased under the old guidelines. Given that transit agencies will be operating with mixed fleets for at least 12 years (the minimum useful life of a 40 foot bus), the potential for stranding or not being able to accommodate significant numbers of passengers who use oversized mobility devices is certain to remain for years.
The situation that would be created by the abandonment of limits on wheelchair size and weights is fundamentally different from the situation that transit agencies faced upon the enactment of the ADA and the initial implementation of DOT’s regulations and the Access Board’s guidelines. In the early 1990’s, transit agencies had opportunities to design ADA paratransit systems that could accommodate persons who received Category 2 eligibility, i.e., those passengers who were functionally able to use accessible fixed route vehicles but who wanted to travel on a route or during a time of the day when accessible vehicles were not available. Transit agencies were able to address the transition of their fixed route bus fleets from inaccessible to accessible by expanding their paratransit fleets. That approach will not work under the framework created by the Access Board’s proposed guidelines for two basic reasons: (1) the guidelines do not provide lead time on the procurement of either fixed route or paratransit vehicles to meet the revised accessibility standards; and (2) the significant problems RTC has experienced in accommodating oversized mobility devices (including circumstances in which the weight of oversized occupied wheelchairs rendered the accessible lifts inoperable) have been more likely to occur on the ADA paratransit system vehicles than on the fixed route system vehicles. In short, because transit agencies are unlikely to have, or reasonably be able to procure, paratransit vehicles in sufficient numbers or time frames to relieve the obligations imposed on fixed route systems by the proposed guidelines, providing Category 2 eligibility on the basis of the Access Board’s guidelines changes will not be operationally feasible. These difficulties are further complicated by the potential problems associated with designing paratransit vehicles that can accommodate oversized wheelchairs.
The Access Board’s assertion that it does not have the authority to regulate mobility devices ignores the basic reality that the Federal agency cannot determine accessibility of vehicles without making some determination as to what devices those vehicles are required to carry. For the past 16 years, those devices were identified as “common wheelchairs.” Transit agencies spent billions of dollars to achieve accessibility through, among other things, the acquisition of vehicles that complied with the current version of Part 1192. To provide individuals who are purchasing wheelchairs or scooters with some assurance that the device they purchase will be compatible with public transit vehicles, RTC suggests that the Access Board retain the definition of “common wheelchair” revised to address the turning capability of mobility devices. It has been our experience that certain “common wheelchairs” that meet the regulatory size and weight dimensions lack sufficient maneuver ability due to wheel size or mounting to provide the passenger access to accessible vehicles. In addition, RTC recommends that the Access Board adopt a certification process by which “common wheelchairs” certified for public transportation are identified.
RTC recommends that the Access Board leave the size and weight dimensions of the definition of “common wheelchair” unchanged. Alternatively, if the Access Board finds it necessary to amend the definition with respect to either size or weight, make that amendment, but do not abandon the definition all together. During the Access Board’s meeting in Las Vegas last year, the concept of identifying mobility devices as “accessible wheelchairs” was raised. RTC has no objection to the replacement of “common” with accessible.”
Please don not hesitate to contact RTC should you have any questions concerning the comments made in this letter.
Very truly yours,
JACOB L. SNOW
cc: Mark Wells, RTC
Sandra Stanko, RTC
Sue Joseph, RTC
Wayne Meissner, RTC
Tony Anderson, Thompson Coburn