Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
Docket No. 2007-1
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation
Comments by the American Bus Association and its Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC) to the Draft Revisions to the ADA Guidelines for Buses and Vans
On April 11, 2007, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (“Board”) released for public comment a first draft of its vehicle guidelines for buses and vans. The American Bus Association (“ABA”) commented on those draft guidelines (June 11, 2007) and raised several issues related to the draft guidelines. On November 19, 2008 the Board released a second draft of its vehicle guidelines for buses and vans with comments due on or before January 20, 2009. In this second draft Over-the-Road-Buses (OTRB) are specifically included in contrast to the first draft in which this vehicle type was not included. As the ABA and its Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC) is composed of member companies and organizations that own operate or manufacture OTRBs, we take this opportunity to again make our serious concerns with the Board’s draft guidelines known to the Board. As ABA noted in its June 2007 submission, it and its members appreciate the opportunity to comment on the draft guidelines.
The ABA is the trade association for the over-the-road bus industry. The ABA has over 3800 member organizations, companies and partnerships and some 800 bus operator members. The ABA bus operator members provide all manner of transportation services; line haul, charter and tour, airport shuttle and commuter services. The BISC is an ABA supported council that is composed of the safety, security and maintenance chiefs of many ABA bus operator members. BISC exists for the purpose of examining government and private industry proposals which BISC believes implicate the safety and security of OTRB operations, maintenance and passenger comfort. BISC discharges its duties by referring all such proposals to one of several council committees for the committee’s review and discussion. Thereafter the committee’s recommendation is submitted to BISC and then to the initiator of the proposal. Following this procedure the Board’s draft guidelines have been reviewed by the BISC Vehicle Technical Operations Committee (“Committee”) and the committe’s conclusions form the core of these comments.
First, BISC and ABA respectfully request that “Chapter T1 Application and Administration” continue to provide a definition of “common wheelchair”. The definition of a wheelchair is not just of interest to transit agencies (which the draft guidelines appear to target). There are several types of mobility devices that cannot be secured on any OTRB. An unsecured mobility device and its occupant can become a danger to all in the OTRB in the case of a sudden stop. Moreover, a clear definition of mobility device is critical for bus manufacturers in order that they know the prescribed dimensions and weights and may design vehicles and wheelchair lifts accordingly. At the present time, wheelchair lifts are not required to lift in excess of six hundred pounds. Any change in this rule requires that bus manufacturers be given sufficient time to redesign the lifts in order to safely lift passengers on and off OTRBs. Bus manufacturers cannot guess as to what types of mobility devises they must accommodate. To say that buses must accommodate “any and all” mobility devices is not a correct answer. To take one example, the devices called “Segways” cannot physically be accommodated on a wheelchair lift into an OTRB due to the height of the OTBR and the fact that the Segway occupant is vertical during the operation. However, without a wheelchair definition OTBR drivers will be required to attempt to load Segways into buses as mobility devices. Also, there is an issue concerning OTBR drivers’ ability to operate the lift. Many bus companies have policies that prohibit drivers from lifting over a certain weight. Again, without a wheelchair definition drivers may be forced to attempt a lift outside of the company’s or a drivers’ union weight limitation. The definition of a mobility device must be retained.
Another issue concerning wheelchair lifts is the proposal that standees be allowed to ride on wheelchair lifts. BISC strongly opposes the proposal in T 302.5.10 that would allow standees to ride on lifts. It is a safety issue. The functioning of wheelchair lifts is not always smooth. With standees, there is an increased possibility for people being thrown off the lift and injured. For safety, lifts should only be used by persons seated in mobility devices.
A related issue with respect to wheelchair lifts is the proposal to increase the lift capacity from 600 to 660 lbs. While the new lift capacity may be reached by reducing the existing margin of safety (MOS) on a lift, this raises the question of whether the bus manufacturers will be allowed to retain the existing MOS or whether regulators will permit a lower MOS? Again, the bus manufacturers will need time to re-engineer their equipment to comply with the new standards. Moreover, the second draft is silent as to why an increase in the weight limit is necessary. In order to properly and completely respond to this proposal, BISC asks that the Board provide it with a rationale for this proposal.
Finally with respect to the wheelchair lift issue, BISC and the ABA request that the Board consider requiring a load measuring device in the lift platform that is tied to an interlock, which will not allow the lift to operate if it senses a significant over weight condition. This is a safety matter. ABA member operators report a number of wheelchair lifts damaged and made inoperable by passengers with significant weight in very heavy powered chairs. Since operators are prohibited from inquiring as to passengers’ weight, the inclusion of a load measuring device would allow lift operations to continue without violating the ADA. Moreover, repairing wheelchair lifts is frequently a time consuming and expensive task. A lift sensor would curtail the need for repairs, ensure the safety of passengers and contribute to the on-time performance of OTRBs
Another issue arises out of the proposed requirements in section T 203.2.1 of the proposal that ramps be permanently attached and power operated. As the BISC commenter noted this proposal would preclude the use of simple, portable and easily stowed ramps. Currently several bus manufacturers have portable, manually deployed and non automated ramps. These ramps are easily available. The proposal would have the industry do away with these ramps in favor of ramps which would not be portable, easily stowed and would require external power for any operation. In addition, the proposed requirement would lengthen the time needed for ramp deployment and would depend on the availability of a power source. As the BISC commenter noted in its deliberations” this requirement is not realistic or practical and should be removed.”
In addition one concern arises from Section T203.7 “covering handrails, handholds, and stanchions.” In sum, the proposal requires that overhead handrails are “not useful to people with disabilities” so that provision has been replaced with a “requirement for handholds or stanchions at the aisle side of seat backs.” As written, the proposal does not take into account the use of aisle handholds in connection with reversible seats (e.g. card table seats). In this regard, the use of such handholds could be unworkable. Moreover, the presence of an exposed handle on the seat could present a head strike hazard to seated passengers in abrupt stop or collision. This would compromise the energy absorption qualities of the seat.
Finally, Section T203.12 proposes a requirement for an automatic route announcement system for vehicles at stops with serve multiple routes. While the draft guidelines state that the “automated stop announcement system” is required on “large vehicles&operated by public entities on fixed routes with multiple stops” and therefore would seem to exclude the OTRB’s operated by ABA members, the recommendation’s location in T203 the section that begins “the specific section for buses, OTRBs, and vans” counsels that BISC address this issue.
While there may be a need for these systems for municipal transit services, it does not appear that such systems are warranted or justifiable for over-the-road coach service. First of all, OTRBs are used primarily in charter and tour service. This service provides transportation to a specific group of passengers traveling together for a common purpose. There is no reason for a stop announcement with a common party and a common destination. Further, OTRBs are also used in line haul scheduled service. That is service between point to point or intercity. Again, the service is provided to passengers who have a common destination. And thus no reason for an automated stop announcement. In addition, BISC agrees with the commenter to the first draft that this requirement would have the bus operators install expensive and complicated vehicle location systems which are not always accurate.
It must be noted that whatever new requirements are mandated, the bus manufacturers and bus company owners and operators will need sufficient time and funds to retool and re-engineer their manufacturing processes or, in the case of bus operators, to retrofit their equipment to the new standards. None of proposals outlined in this proceeding can be done easily, quickly or without cost.
The standards proposed by the Board seem fundamentally to be an attempt to standardize transit buses and OTRB accessibility without adequately taking into account both differences in bus design and safety systems or differences between transit buses and OTRB in service and usage. For that reason, if for no other, BISC asks that the Board consider a “grandfather” clause when implementing these requirements. In sum, the new requirements would apply to buses manufacturers after a date certain rather than to the entire industry at the same time. The retrofitting of buses to new standards can be a long, difficult and expensive process. The average ABA bus operating company is a small business with an average of eight coaches, each of which can cost $450,000. If the cost of retrofitting one coach to the new standards is $45,000 or 10% of the purchase price, the bus owner is facing an outlay of $360,000. Not an inconsiderable sum for a small businessman or woman but one that will be required of him by his customers, few of whom will want to travel in a bus that is not retrofitted to current standards. For the same reason, the bus owners should be protected while retrofitting his or her fleet. Basically, while a bus company is complying with the time line for the implementation of the standards, he or she must be protected from legal action by attorneys who seek to attach liability to bus owners and operators for not having the equipment required by the new standards.
Finally, BISC believes that the second draft proposal of an interior door release (T302.4) is a positive addition to the guidelines. This would allow the lift door to be used for ambulatory passenger egress in an emergency. However, the guidelines should include a requirement that the lift door latch be equipped with a latch (open/close) sensor as well as an override switch to prevent operation of the coach with the lift door unlatched. And BISC believes that the requirement for the interior release handle for “all doors that must be opened to operate the lift,” should be amended so that the requirement applies only to those doors which are accessible from the passenger compartment of the vehicle.
Clyde J. Hart, Jr.
Senior Vice President for Government Affairs
and Counsel to the Bus Industry Safety Council
American Bus Association
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