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.

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