Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On ADA's 20th Anniversary, New Guidelines Proposed for Transit Accessibility

On July 26, 2010 - the 20th anniversary of the signing into law of the Americans with Disabilities Act - the US Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board ("Access Board") published proposed guidelines that - if implemented - would make sweeping changes to the specifications for accessible transit vehicles in the US.

These are proposed guidelines. Nothing is final. Comments are being collected by the Access Board through November 23, 2010.

Transit professionals, disability community advocates, and manufacturers of transit vehicles and accessibility features are aware that these proposed guidelines are the latest iteration in a series of proposals the Access Board circulated in spring of 2007 and autumn of 2008. Based on comments received on those proposals, the Access Board has refined its draft guidelines in this latest publication; evidence suggest that these guidelines are close to what is intended as a final rule. If so, look to such a document being published in the spring or early summer of 2011.

The current proposal, along with a wealth of background information, is found at the Access Board's website, www.access-board.gov, or can be retrieved as a 43-page PDF from the Federal Register (July 26, 2010, Federal Register, page 43747 et seq.). In this proposal, the Access Board has 21 leading questions to which they specifically are requesting informed comments, but they are welcoming public comment on all aspects of the rule.

Technical experts and concerned stakeholders should comb this proposal closely, and prepare their comments for submission.

There seem to be a few truly significant aspects to the proposal, including all-new dimensions and rules of definition concerning wheelchair securement positions on transit vehicles, all-new language to define the accessibility of ramps for low-floor transit vehicles, new requirements for automated stop announcements on many buses (specifically, all buses of 22 feet or more in length that are used by transit agencies with 100 or more buses in service for fixed-route transit), and new guidelines concerning accessibility of bus rapid transit (BRT) services.

Although little about this proposal addresses wheelchair lifts (perhaps that's a sign of evolving technologies in accessible public transit?), it's interesting to note that the earlier idea of increasing the maximum weight to 660 lbs has been dropped, and these accessibility guidelines continue to speak to the requirement of a maximum of 600 lbs that lifts and other accessibility features must be designed to accommodate.

Finally, it's good to recall that any guidelines, once finalized, would affect only future acquisitions of transit vehicles (including buses, over-the-road coaches, and vans that are used for public transit). Just as was the case when the current guidelines were issued in 1991, nothing about these rules would require any retrofitting of any transit vehicles in current use.

If you have concerns or expertise, it is vital that you submit comments on this proposal. Repeatedly, the Access Board's proposal notes items in which they have received contradictory or incomplete information from the field to inform their final guidelines, so they may really need to hear from you this time around.

Monday, July 26, 2010

House to Act Soon on Transportation Spending

Later this week (probably on Wednesday July 28 or Thursday July 29), the House is expected to vote on its version of FY 2011 Transportation-HUD appropriations.

As reported in a prior "Capitol Clips," the House spending bill would increase Federal Transit Administration (FTA) spending by 5 percent over current levels. Almost every dime of the transit increases proposed in the House legislation would go to increases in the FTA formula grant programs. It would appear the House is all but disregarding the Administration's request for funding its livable communities initiative (some funds are identified in the Secretary of Transportation's office budget for this), and is also disregarding the Administration's request for a multi-billion dollar infusion of funds into a national infrastructure bank.

It's harder to tell when the Senate will act on its version of Transportation-HUD appropriations. The Senate's version of this bill was approved by its Appropriations Committee on July 22, but the timing of Senate floor action is hard to predict. Its spending bill would not increase FTA programs by any significant amount. Although the Senate does not go along with the Administration's request for transportation funding of the livable communities program, it would call upon FTA and the Federal Highway Administration to jointly allocate $200 million of their planning capacity building funds to support planning efforts that better links transportation and housing.

In case you're looking to follow these bills more closely, it's good to note the bill numbers currently assigned to House and Senate bills: HR 5850 and S 3644, respectively.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Spending Bills Take One Step Forward in House

In the current Congressional climate, it's not really clear how next year's federal spending bills will be handled (okay, so most of the pundits, lobbyists, and other observers of the annual appropriations process are predicting that everything will be bundled into one or more catch-all, or "omnibus" appropriations bills after the November elections). Nevertheless, several subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee did their part this week, right before Congress took off for the Independence Day recess.

This week's "markups" in these panels included FY 2011 appropriations for (i) Agriculture, (ii) Legislative Branch, (iii) State and Foreign Operations, (iv) Commerce, Justice and Science, and (v) Transportation and HUD.

Much can change between now and final enactment of the FY 2011 appropriations, especially in the absence of a SAFETEA-LU transportation reauthorization. However, the House "T-HUD" appropriations draft at least gives an indication of how transit and related programs may fare next year.

Overall, the House panel calls for a 5.4 percent increase in transit spending over this year's levels. That's an interesting figure, given President Obama's call for a "freeze" in domestic discretionary spending.

Here's how the House draft bill addresses aspects of the federal transportation program....

Within the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) programs, the draft House bill would increase formula grant programs (known to most FTA grantees by their authorizing statutes as Sections 5307, 5310, 5311, 5316 [JARC] and 5317 [New Freedom]), together with funds for fixed guideway modernization and buses and bus facilities by 7.4 percent, to a total of nearly $9.0 billion. FTA's administrative and staff budget would increase $32 million over this year's amount; the Washington (DC) Metrorail system would receive another infusion of $150.0 million and FTA major capital funding for "new starts and small starts" (all of which are rail and fixed guideway projects) would remain at this year's level of $2.0 billion.

The House bill would provide $20 million to the Secretary of Transportation's office for "Livable Communities" investments. The Secretary's office would receive $400 million for more rounds of "TIGER" grants.

Within the rail program, the House bill would provide $1.4 billion for high-speed rail projects, and would provide nearly $1.8 billion to Amtrak for operating, capital and debt service expenses.

It's far to early in the process for anyone to be taking these figures to the bank, but if you want to read more, be sure to visit the House Appropriations Committee's website.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ten More Days to Prepare those TIGER II Pre-Applications

Quick update: If you're interested in applying for the Dept of Transportation's "TIGER II" discretionary grants, you may be relieved to know that the deadline for submitting this program's required "pre-applications" has been extended, to July 26, 2010. The deadline for final applications remains August 23, 2010.

This competition is one of the recent flurry of grants and notices related to the DOT-HUD-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities and their commitment to promote livable communities. We recently summarized this effort both here and in the NRC's Express Stop blog. Details on the TIGER II program, including notices, FAQs, and more, can be found on the DOT's website at www.dot.gov/recovery/ost/TIGERII.