Comments from Paratransit Services re Draft Revisions to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buses and Vans, as Published November 19, 2008.
About Paratransit Services
Paratransit Services is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit transportation services company based in the Seattle-area city of Bremerton, Washington. We have been operating accessible transportation programs since our company was founded in 1980. Our current operations include ADA public transit systems in Washington State, Oregon, and Northern California. We are also a broker for the Medicaid Transportation Program, administered by the state Department of Social and Health Services, for 10 counties in northwestern Washington.
Paratransit Services recognizes and values the Board’s efforts to implement the American with Disabilities Act and provide accessibility for all. We support your efforts to improve the functionality of buses to accommodate passengers and appreciate your efforts to gather public comment on these proposed rules. We offer the following initial comments.
1. Include Transition Allowances for Mixed Fleets. The guidelines should address the twelve or more years of mixed fleets where some buses comply with the new standards while others are based on the old standards. Without transition planning, a wheelchair user could board a “new rule” bus to a transfer location, only to find only “old rule” buses operating on the second leg of his trip. Additionally, the impacts on Paratransit eligibility should be considered. How will providers account for a passenger whose wheelchair is within the new size standard but too large to access “old rule” buses?
2. Allow “Grandfathering of Existing Fleets. We believe transportation providers should be allowed to “grandfather” in existing fleets and to continue to purchase newer used vehicles that may have improved accessibility over their existing fleet but still not meet the specifications of the new rule. For example, the proposed requirement that there be a route from the bus or van entrance to the securement locations with a minimum of 36-inch width could provide undue hardship on smaller transportation providers. Most smaller transit and transportation entities do not have the financial resources to purchase new buses for their fleet. Accordingly, recommend that any changes be applied to new vehicle purchases only. The Board could establish the effective date through the use of the phrase “manufactured after [date]”.
3. Standards should be Specific to Vehicle Class. The Board should consider the widely divergent uses of buses, vans, mini-vans, and cutaway buses in public transportation, and the practical differences among these vehicle designs. We believe the Board should study the feasibility of crafting different standards for different classes of vehicles.
4. Further Research is Needed. We strongly encourage the Board to conduct further research. We request that the Board issue background information that describes the technical issue the proposed revisions are attempting to overcome. This information will assist in allowing the industry to understand the extent of the problem and an opportunity to propose alternatives. We agree with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) position that the Board should conduct a public review to identify the existence and magnitude of shortcomings that may exist in the current standards, analyze whether adjustments to operating practices, procedures, or training could sufficiently address identified shortcomings, then canvass the industry to determine if technological or equipment solutions are or can be expected to become available in the foreseeable future, and the likely costs of these solutions.
Comments on Definitions and Specification Changes
1. Raising the required weight for lift and ramp specifications from 600 lbs to 660 lbs. We support this increase and also request a maximum limit be identified.
2. Establishing the maximum slope of ramps at 1:8 in all cases, including when deployed to the roadway. We do not believe that the mandated slope ratio is feasible in situations where there are no curbs/sidewalks or a raised boarding area. We provide transportation services in numerous rural communities without curb or sidewalks. Under ideal circumstances a ramp measuring 8 ft. long would be required to meet these criteria. Several practical issues arise as a result. Often, there is not 8 ft of depth to work with from the face of the curb or edge of the roadway to deploy a ramp of that length. It would then require the vehicle to park out into the street.
3. Definition of a Common Wheelchair. We encourage the Board to reconsider the abandonment of the current definition of a common wheel chair. It should be revised but still defined. The definition of a common wheel chair provides a reliable measure for transit operators. Without the definition, we are left in the position of making case-by-case determinations and as a result are open to liability as a result of this uncertainty over the definition and what is acceptable.
4.All vehicles longer than 22 feet must be equipped with an automated stop identification system that includes both a visual and audio announcements. Paratransit Services supports this idea in concept, but in actual practice it will place undue hardship on smaller systems because of (a) the cost of the technical GPS-related equipment necessary to implement the technology, and (b) the cost and availability of trained staff to operate and maintain the system. Additionally, this technology is much more than is necessary, and may not even be feasible, in many small rural transit systems.
Submitted by Christie Scheffer
Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer