The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is the largest public transportation provider in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and the second largest subway and fifth largest bus system nationally. On average, we provide 720,000 rail trips, 439,000 bus trips, and 4,400 paratransit trips every weekday. WMATA is pleased to provide the following comments on the draft revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles, as announced by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) on April 11, 2007 (at 72 FR 18179) and as posted on the Access Board’s Internet site.
WMATA applauds the Access Board for making the draft revisions to the guidelines (and supplemental information) available for public review and comment prior to issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking to update the guidelines. Such major changes to the ADA regulations for buses, vans and other similar vehicles could have very significant impacts on public transportation providers, including operability, service cost, and the safety of both disabled and able-bodied passengers.
Like other respondents, WMATA believes that any changes to the existing guidelines should be based on reasonable research and suggests the Board make available to respondents the research, technical input and rationale that is the basis for the proposed changes. The Access Board should base any proposed changes upon need and provide reasonable evidence to demonstrate that changes are required and justify the additional cost and effort.
Of greatest concern for WMATA is that the proposed changes to 26 CFR Part 1192 could radically impact the design (physical configuration) of buses, vans and similar vehicles, and that major design changes could seriously affect the operations of public transportation providers. As proposed, these guidelines would require increased size of door openings, increased weight accommodated on lifts, increased aisle width and parking area sizes for wheelchairs, increased headroom in accessible path areas in vehicles, a decrease in the slope on ramps in low floor buses, installation of passenger stop annunciation systems in all vehicles and the need to tie down undefined mobility aids. As a result, all vehicles currently in operation would be defined as inaccessible. A major probable effect of these proposed changes is to reduce seating in buses and vans, and require a redesign of current vehicle lift and ramp systems and the vehicles themselves.
WMATA agrees with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) that if the Access Board should choose to revise the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles, any revisions should apply only to vehicles manufactured after a specific date that allows sufficient time for the transit industry to accommodate the final changes.
Changes to the existing vehicle guidelines would inevitably lead to mixed fleets, i.e., newer vehicles that comply with the updated guidelines and others based on older guidelines. WMATA recommends that as the Access Board considers this issue, it keep in mind the problems that a patron using a larger mobility device may encounter in dealing with mixed fleets (i.e., that the mobility aid may not have access to or be properly secured on all fleet vehicles), as well as the scheduling and vehicle availability problems that a transit property would encounter if there were a mandatory requirement to schedule like types of buses together. Therefore, WMATA recommends that if the Access Board makes changes to the guidelines, the guidelines (and subsequent regulations) should include precatory language—rather than a requirement—that transportation providers exercise good faith in attempting to schedule like types of vehicles at major transfer points. This problem will ultimately resolve itself as buses cycle out of a transit property's fleet (for example over a 12-15 year period for WMATA).
It is also important that the Access Board keep in mind that public transportation providers often have little or no control over the “environmental restrictions” of the transit stops at which they operate. This is particularly true for multi-jurisdictional operators. In the case of WMATA, our buses and paratransit vehicles operate in the District of Columbia, as well as two counties and three cities in Virginia and in several counties and numerous cities and towns in Maryland, and some stops are on privately owned or federally owned property. The wide variety of “environmental restrictions” could easily render system-wide compliance impossible.
As noted in specific comments below, WMATA recommends a two-step process. First, the Access Board should request specific information from manufacturers (of vehicles and other equipment) to determine the feasibility of building rolling stock and other equipment to meet the new proposed design guidelines. This would include the design and layout of interior space, the amount of seating gained or lost, and need for relocation of entry doors from bus and van manufacturers, and the feasibility of designing “universal” tie down devices from restraint equipment manufacturers. Once this information is compiled and made available, public transportation providers should be afforded the opportunity to comment on the operational, safety, and cost implications.
Further the Access Board should consult with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to ensure changes to the guidelines would not compromise safety for any public transportation passengers.
Prior to issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking, the Access Board should look at the potential impact to the entire U.S. transit industry, i.e., both manufacturers (changes to design, engineering, equipment, tooling, production facilities) and operators (replacement of rolling stock, need to purchase additional rolling stock, additional operator training/salaries/benefits, increased fuel/insurance/maintenance costs for larger vehicle fleets) as it is likely the Board would need to provide the assessments and estimates required by the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. §1532). In addition, the proposed Access Board changes appear to represent significant departures from existing regulations and policy, requiring a Federalism Assessment to comply with Section 6 of Executive Order 13132.
WMATA responds to the following questions/requests for comment in the document “Discussion of Revisions” on the Access Board Internet site.
1) A manufacturer or transit provider is not required to design or modify a vehicle to provide additional space to accommodate a wheelchair or mobility aid which is larger or weighs more than the lift, ramp or bridgeplate design load. Whether a provider must transport a wheelchair which exceeds those limits, but can still fit within the vehicle, is a matter for DOT to decide. The Board specifically requests comments on how to make the language of this section clearer.
WMATA comments: Guidelines (and subsequent regulations) that define such key items as aisle width, maneuvering space, total weight, securement requirements, protection panels, and ramp slope, describe the dimensions and/or performance of the systems designed to meet the guidelines/regulations. Requiring transit agencies to implement these performance-based systems and designs and also requiring transit agencies to meet other unknown requirements on basically an unknown and unlimited number of current and future mobility devices is inconsistent in approach and likely to be unworkable.
Any guidelines or regulations with which transit agencies are required to comply should be fully defined, workable, consistent with transit practice, safe and should not require loss of seating, additional equipment and increased operating costs. Changes to the existing guidelines and regulations should not be made without detailed research and analysis to justify those changes, as well as an understanding of the impact of additional requirements on the transit industry. In addition, it is important to weigh the costs and benefits of the requirements to customers with disabilities against costs to other customers who may be unable to board a vehicle due to insufficient space and who may be required to pay for increased costs through probable fare increases.
Therefore, WMATA suggests that the Access Board must retain a definition for “wheelchair” (and “common wheelchair”) as well as include a definition for “mobility aid.” As noted in comments to § 1192.3 below, the Access Board may wish to include more dynamic definitions to account for future developments in the mobility field.
2) The revised section 1192.23(a) attempts to add more specificity by requiring a route from the entrance to securement locations with a minimum 36 inch width. This is consistent with accessible routes in buildings, but has not previously been applied to vehicles. The Board recognizes that vehicles are constrained by road lane width and some restrictions in tunnels and bridges. The Board requests comments on the feasibility of this requirement. If a 36 inch width is not possible, would a 32 inch minimum width be achievable? In addition, front door entry necessitates a right angle turn. The available space is constrained by the fare box, driver seat, modesty panels and wheel wells. A 5-foot turning circle is not possible. In building standards, a 42-inch minimum aisle is required to turn into a 36-inch wide aisle. Can this be achieved in a bus? How can the maneuvering and turning space be defined so that compliance is more verifiable?
WMATA comments: Transit agencies purchase vehicles which meet certain local, state and federal design standards. The Access Board should request that bus manufacturers provide information on the impact of these proposed changes to transit vehicle design standards. Examples include impacts on typical forward fare box installation location, changes in the interior and exterior boarding area based on size of bus (including forward versus rear boarding), impact of a 1:8 ramp design in a range of typical transit operating environments; impact on vehicle structural design and safety if larger openings are required in vehicles to allow greater headroom (especially in small vehicles), redesign of the vehicle’s understructure and suspension system, loss of seating due to increased aisle width, and maneuvering area and parking area for mobility devices.
After this information is available, transit agencies should be afforded the opportunity to comment on (1) the cost implications for newly designed and configured vehicles, as well as for additional equipment and labor required as a result of the design changes, (2) impacts on operations, and (3) impacts on the safety of passengers using mobility aids and to other passengers, including elderly and disabled passengers who do not use mobility aids. The Access Board acknowledged in its “Discussion of Revisions” that vehicles are constrained by road lane width and some restrictions in tunnels and bridges, so it should not expect that the guidelines for accessible routes in vehicles to be consistent with those for buildings. After all, a transit vehicle is not a building.
3) A problem frequently raised is accommodation of larger and heavier wheelchairs. Some size increases may not be achievable because of external constraints on vehicles which are beyond the control of the guidelines. Others could be solved with rear door entry.
WMATA comment: As noted above, WMATA believes the Access Board should first request that bus manufacturers provide information on the accommodation of larger and heavier wheelchairs on vehicle design standards. (This is also a reason for a more dynamic definition of “common wheelchair.”) If the solution to the design requirements is rear door entry, transit agencies should be afforded the opportunity to comment on the impact this would have on operations, costs, and safety. For example, fewer seats per vehicle would necessitate the purchase of additional fleet vehicles, as well as the payment of salaries/benefits for additional operators to provide equivalent service and additional costs for fuel, insurance and maintenance for a larger vehicle fleet. In addition, boarding other than from front doors would pose fare evasion issues for transportation operators. (See comments under §1192.3(d) below.)
4) Requirements for ramps have been simplified in paragraph (c) of section 1192.23. Instead of the complicated and confusing slopes tied to floor height, the proposal is to set the maximum slope at 1:8 in all cases, including when deployed to the roadway.
WMATA comment: The Access Board should request specific information from manufacturers of ramps (and lifts) to determine the feasibility of designing and producing equipment to meet such a ramp slope requirement. Even if such equipment were available, this change would require transit operators to meet a performance requirement in equipment that must accommodate environmental restrictions in pick up and boarding locations that are not under the control of the transit agency.
5) The securement system is not intended as passenger restraint or for protection of the wheelchair user. It is intended to duplicate, to the extent possible, the requirement on all other bus seats that they remain affixed to the vehicle in the event of a crash.
WMATA comments: Again, changes to the existing guidelines and regulations should not be made without detailed research and analysis to justify those changes, as well as an understanding of the impact on transportation providers. The Access Board should first request that manufacturers of tie downs and other devices comment on the feasibility, cost and practicality of providing “universal” tie downs that could work on scooters and other mobility aids, as well as unusual wheelchair designs (three wheel, bicycle type, etc.), then allow transportation providers the opportunity to provide comments on the operational, safety, and cost implications.
Although WMATA recognizes that the Access Board does not have the authority to regulate mobility devices, requiring transit agencies to attempt to restrain all mobility equipment is not only impractical, but could result in reduced safety to the customers using that equipment and to other passengers. WMATA also strongly recommends coordination with the appropriate safety agencies in the federal government to ensure that accessibility guidelines and regulations promulgated provide a safe environment to transit customers, disabled and able bodied.
6) Securement location and size requirements have been revised to require additional space where the area is constrained on three sides by seats, modesty panels, wheel wells, etc. The provisions are taken from requirements for alcoves in the new ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities. Two figures from that document will be included. A current provision allowing some of the required floor space to be under seats and panels has been removed. That provision worked for wheelchair footrests, but could not accommodate many scooters which have a front tiller control.
WMATA comment: By eliminating the foot space provision, the proposed language effectively increases the “parking area” required by mobility devices. As noted above, any guidelines/regulations with which transit agencies must comply should not require loss of seating without an analysis and understanding of the exact additional requirements and the impact of those requirements on the transit industry. Again, WMATA believes the Access Board should first request that bus manufacturers provide information on the impact to vehicle design and design standards, and then allow transportation operators the opportunity to comment on the operational, safety, and cost implications of such design changes. It is important to weigh the costs and benefits of the requirements to customers with disabilities against costs to other customers who may be unable to board a vehicle due to insufficient space and who may be required to pay for increased costs through probable fare increases.
Although the Access Board says it has no authority to regulate wheelchairs or mobility aids, it is impossible to adhere to these guidelines unless key terms used in the guidelines are defined. Therefore, a definition for “wheelchair” (and “common wheelchair”) must be retained. WMATA would suggest a more dynamic definition that could accommodate future changes to wheelchair design. For example, such a definition might include weight/dimensional limits that are a certain percentage of the design specifications. This would allow for different limits based on the type of transit vehicle in use. After the Access Board obtains information from manufacturers of rolling stock and other equipment, it will have the (weight/dimensional) design parameters to be able to establish a reasonable definition.
Similarly, the term “mobility aid,” used throughout the ADAAG, must be defined clearly by the Access Board in order for transportation providers to adhere to these guidelines and to avoid significant operational and safety issues. Without a definition, equipment such as Segways, not specifically designed for use by people with disabilities as a mobility device, could be included. Allowing such equipment on transit vehicles poses significant operational and safety issues in terms of restraining this equipment, in safely operating transit vehicles while people ride on these devices, and the safety of other passengers in case of vehicle accident, sudden turn or deceleration. Before proposing a definition, the Access Board should specifically request comment from transit operators and from restraint equipment manufacturers as to the safety of allowing passengers to ride various types of transportation devices — especially Segways — onto buses. Further, the Access Board should consult with the NHSTA as to the safety to the general public in carrying undefined equipment not specifically designed as mobility aids for use by persons with disabilities.
Finally, the guidelines make reference to two other key terms, which should be defined: similar vehicles (in title, §1192.21(a), and elsewhere) and van (in title, §1192.21(a), and elsewhere).
The proposed language in paragraph (a) would render virtually all currently used transit buses and vans inaccessible. WMATA agrees with APTA that only vehicles manufactured after a specific date should be required to meet the revised guidelines, and that the date chosen for implementation allow the transit industry sufficient time to accommodate any and all changes to the guidelines. The Access Board should defer selecting the date until it has sufficient information on such critical issues as the time needed for design, engineering and manufacturing changes by manufacturers, the establishment of timelines needed to execute contractual relationships between manufacturers and transit agencies, bus testing, and related costs. WMATA recommends the following change to paragraph (a):
New, used or remanufacturedBuses, vans and similar vehicles (except over-the-road buses covered by subpart G of this part), to be considered accessible by regulations issued by the Department of Transportation in 49 CFR part 37, shall comply with the applicable provisions of this subpart.
Transportation providers, such as public transportation agencies, should be responsible for compliance only when they have control over the design and construction of boarding and alighting areas. When transportation providers do not have such control, they may very well attempt to influence the design and construction of such areas, but cannot guarantee success. The ability to “exert influence” is vague and should be dropped from the last sentence of paragraph (d):
If construction is carried out by an entity other than the transportation provider, compliance with the above sections shall be to the extent that the transportation provider has control of
, or can exert influence over,the design and construction of boarding and alighting areas.
As suggested above, the Access Board should request that bus manufacturers provide information on the impact of these proposed changes to transit vehicle design standards. If changes (e.g., “clear width” of 36 inches in paragraph (2)) would require accessible boarding other than from front doors and result in a loss of seats, there would be significant operational and cost implications for transportation providers. As already noted, a reduction in the number of vehicle seats could result in costs for additional equipment, salaries and benefits for additional vehicles operators, and higher costs for fuel, insurance and maintenance, as well as pose operational challenges, including fare evasion.
The Access Board should clarify that the “clear width” requirement does not preclude the use of fold up seating typically found in front of or adjacent to wheelchair locations.
The Access Board should ask bus and ramp manufacturers to provide information on the impact of the proposed decrease in ramp slope to their concepts and design standards. WMATA is concerned this change could require an increased ramp length and expansion of the vestibule area at the front of the vehicle, thus impacting the overall width of the vehicles and necessitating a major redesign of the vehicle’s understructure and suspension systems. Again, if this change required rear door entry and ramp/lift placement, there would be significant cost and operational implications for transit operators.
In addition, this major change in paragraph (5) to slope could be problematic where there is no curb or where curbs are not standard. As noted above, public transportation providers often have little or no control over the “environmental restrictions” of the transit stops at which they operate. Therefore, WMATA suggests that the current slope provisions be retained and that exceptions be allowed for boarding locations where there are no curbs or where curbs are not of a standard height
§1192.23(e) Mobility and Accessibility – Securement devices
Unless the term “mobility aids” is defined in §1192.3 (and in 49 CFR 37.3), the requirement to secure any “wheelchairs and mobility aids which can enter and maneuver within a vehicle complying with this subpart” is a practical impossibility and could result in significant operational and safety issues. Absent a definition, transportation providers would be required to secure any device that a disabled passenger uses as a mobility aid. Such a scenario could result in increased injuries for the disabled passengers, as well as other passengers (e.g., objects that cannot be tied down could be thrown around a vehicle as a result of sudden stops or maneuvers and the moving “mobility aids” could injure nearby passengers).
In conclusion, WMATA reiterates that any changes the Access Board makes to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines should be based upon need and that the Board should provide reasonable evidence to demonstrate that such changes are required and justified. WMATA also reminds the Access Board, as it continues its review of these guidelines, that public transportation providers have an obligation to provide safe, efficient and cost effective transportation to the entire traveling public. There must be a balance between the needs of passengers with disabilities with the transportation needs of other passengers. Given the increasing costs of providing public transportation and the decreasing funding sources, it is important that any changes to the guidelines not result in increased capital and operating costs in order to provide equivalent service levels. Finally, safety must not be compromised for any public transportation passenger.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide comments before the issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking to update these ADA Accessibility Guidelines.
Deborah S. Lipman, Director
Office of Policy and Government Relations
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
600 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001