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country. Most of those, those operators, are not in a position to come to the Federal Government and ask for some increment in the amount of money the Federal Government supplies by virtue of these new requirements-requirements which are designed to extend what the civil rights law was designed to extend to all Americans, but at last they are being extended to citizens with disabilities.
We have not seen any policy justification for suddenly saying, well, we now are extending civil rights to another classification of Americans, and therefore it is important to change our budgetary approach to the subsidy of some of these systems. It is an obligation that is inherent in the common carrier requirements of the companies that we are talking about, and it has not been seen as a justification for increasing Federal subsidy.
If anything, of course, the administration has been looking for ways to shrink Federal subsidy and impose a greater share of the financial burden on the local areas, State governments to some extent, and on the users, in order that we keep these systems as up to date as possible without recourse to the Federal Government year after year.
Mr. WHITTAKER. That places you in an ideal situation, I might suggest where you mandate, but then don't appropriate to help them out. It is a common problem we have with the Federal Government doing that to either the cities or States or municipalities.
It is, say, to recommend something, but if we don't fund it, it puts the burden on somebody else. That is all the questions I have, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. LUKEN. Thank you, Mr. Whittaker. Mr. McMillan.
Mr. McMILLAN. Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Shane, you have described New York and Philadelphia, which I guess basically are modifications to computer service primarily, isn't that what you were referring to?
Mr. SHANE. I was thinking about the transit system.
Mr. McMILLAN. In your judgment have they demonstrated that the technology is there to do what this law requires?
Mr. SHANE. Mr. Cline is a little closer to that, Congressman, if I could ask him to answer you.
Mr. CLINE. The specific agreements in New York and Philadelphia did not necessarily address the technology available, but identified which stations would be rehabilitated to accommodate the needs of the disabled.
The technology required in what we refer to as the "old rail cities”, the older systems, is a little bit more difficult because of some of the barriers in the original construction of those facilities, some of it dating to the last century. But mainly the negotiations concerned the availability of funding and the stations necessary to meet the needs of the disabled.
Mr. McMILLAN. Well, in terms of station modification, that is more an architectural question that probably varies from one situation to the next. I was thinking more in terms of equipment, the rail equipment itself. Have they demonstrated workable technologies that get the job done?
Mr. CLINE. Most of the technology that's required for the vehicle itself, if we are not talking about the station modifications to platforms and elevators and the like, that technology is available. It has mainly been just a matter of widening doors and making accommodations in the aisles to move a wheelchair-using person through.
Mr. McMILLAN. In some cases does that mean elevator-type lifts?
Mr. CLINE. Yes, there would be a need for an elevator or ramptype system on light rail vehicles. Philadelphia has some, and there are some in other cities where they have street level operations. Boston is another city that had modified its light rail system to accommodate persons with disabilities.
Mr. McMILLAN. Shifting back a minute to the estimated, and I realize you are not necessarily fully up to speed on what Amtrak's cost estimates are, but you mentioned that Amtrak was basically in compliance with previously existing legislation on this or did I misunderstand you that maybe what you said was that this legislation reaffirmed what essentially had been imposed on Amtrak previously. Is that a more accurate description?
Mr. SHANE. That's correct. As I understand it, they are not in compliance with the preexisting legislation. The requirements that are imposed on them by the new legislation are essentially the same requirements as have been in effect for Amtrak since effectively 1979.
Mr. McMILLAN. And that estimate of, you said $35 to $50 million, is that an Amtrak estimate of meeting that, the standards in that prior legislation?
Mr. SHANE. Yes, it is.
Mr. McMILLAN. And so the fact that it is not in place has been a budgetary issue, I suppose?
In other words, funds have not been appropriated by the Congress to meet that?
Mr. SHANE. Mr. Lindsey.
Mr. LINDSEY. Yes, that is the case, Mr. McMillan. Those costs represent primarily station accessibility costs. On the equipment side, Amtrak comes very close to meeting the requirement now. Virtually, all trains have at least one car that is accessible, and the other requirement that's in place is that new equipment that's purchased be accessible.
And I believe you will find when Amtrak is up here that they will tell you that the additional cost on new equipment isn't primarily in the cost of acquiring that equipment, but rather in a tradeoff of revenue receipts. To the extent more spaces are made accessible to the handicapped, there is a sacrifice in revenue receipts and therefore a tradeoff in revenue rather than a major capital cost.
So most of the capital costs are involved in making stations accessible, and the trade off there is between direct accessibility or some kind of special services to enable the handicapped to get around barriers.
Mr. McMILLAN. There was a point made, I think, by Mr. Claytor at one point having to do with a number of station locations of Amtrak, somewhere in the 400 range out of a total number of stations of approximately 450 or 460, something like that.
Many of those stations have very limited use, maybe average boardings of four or five in which the cost of modifications to the station would exceed the total revenue over a period of 1 year. What is the resolution of that kind of problem?
Would the law mandate that those stations remain open or is that still at the discretion of Amtrak based on the revenue generated and the number of people using the service?
Mr. LINDSEY. It is at Amtrak's discretion under the Rail Passenger Service Act. There are under that statute route and service cri. teria with which Amtrak must comply on discontinuing services or starting new ones, and any decision on closing a station or changing Amtrak service is made under those criteria. This bill would not affect that.
Mr. McMILLAN. Well, is it possible, then, that if this law is adopted and if Congress appropriates the funds to meet the requirements of the law for
Amtrak that Amtrak might in that process say: Well, this set of stations, because of limited use, and the capital requirements that are needed to comply with the law are not worth maintaining any longer, and therefore cease service in some locations?
Mr. LINDSEY. Yes, sir, that is a possible outcome.
Mr. McMILLAN. Does the law impose the cost entirely upon Amtrak, or does it recognize that many stations are maintained at the request of the local community, and in some cases are owned by the local community or some other transportation authority, and that that cost perhaps should be borne by them rather than Amtrak.
Has that been reviewed at all in terms of the cost estimates on compliance?
Mr. LINDSEY. In terms of the substance, yes, and the costs, no, sir. It is the case under the statute that if someone else owns the station, be they public or private, they, too, would have an obligation.
The statute doesn't directly say "Amtrak shall.” It says "intercity rail transit stations shall.” So, the obligation, I think, falls arguably both on operator and owner where they are different. It has also been the Department's view that many of the improvements that Amtrak would like to make for stations, either to accommodate the disabled or otherwise, may be done with other public and some private funds, as Amtrak is doing at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.
We don't have a good fix on how many of the 400-odd stations that would need some improvements could be handled in that way. And the improvements vary from relatively minor and inexpensive ones, such as lowering the height of the ticket counter or adding bars to assist the handicapped in a restroom, to relatively major structural ones.
We don't have a firm fix on what the total of those costs is, or who would bear them as between Amtrak and others. Perhaps Amtrak has a better one.
Mr. McMILLAN. That would be a negotiable issue, then, between the owner of the station and Amtrak?
Mr. LINDSEY. I believe so, sir. I think of Amtrak's 499 stations, it owns 81, and of those 81, many are in the Northeast Corridor and are fully accessible.
Mr. WHITTAKER. To follow up on that, I am a representative of a rural area, and I was listening to your testimony concerning Philadelphia that had a percentage of their stations accessible. Rather than to lose the availability of all rail passenger service in some local areas—if the ridership is very low, that is probably their only choice, to stop service, they would just shut the station down-how about on a regional basis, with say, six stations-can it be patterned that a handicapped individual could maybe commute to the next town to find a facility that they could board on? Is that anywhere in the thinking?
Mr. LINDSEY. The statute doesn't seem to contemplate that, Mr. Whittaker. It is not an unreasonable solution. That is a lot like the key station provision for the transit systems. I would offer the observation, though, that many of the low-density stations, the ones with four or five passengers a day or something, that Mr. McMillan referred to, and that presumably you are referring to also, wouldn't require very much capital investment to fix.
It might be a ramp that would accommodate a wheelchair or something, and ramps are pretty inexpensive. Those would not be large structures requiring extensive renovation, so I think most of those would be small investments.
Mr. McMILLAN. The location, for example, would an inclined ramp be an acceptable mode of access to an elevated car level?
Mr. LINDSEY. Under the statute, there would have to be a ramp that would reach a level where the wheelchair could roll directly into the car, also..
Mr. McMILLAN. But that is not a very expensive modification. If you take a very low-use stations that is essentially ground level that amounts to a parking lot, and a small structure and the ground level adjacent to the track, a relatively inexpensive ramp system could meet the requirements under this legislation? Mr. LINDSEY. Yes, sir, I believe so.
As long as the person in the wheelchair would have access, and a person using crutches or something would have access, I believe that would meet the requirement. There wouldn't be any other facilities there requiring modification.
You wouldn't hit the major structural things that you would in a large structure, so I believe it would be a small cost.
Mr. McMILLAN. Is it now, or is it contemplated that the alternative might be done, so that an elevator-type system is put on the car itself so that the modification is made to the rolling stock and not the investment made in multiple points of access along the way?
Is that a feasible alternative?
Mr. LINDSEY. I would like to think that one over and supply an answer for the record, if I may, Mr. McMillan. I have not thought that one through.
[The following material was supplied:] Amtrak has informed us that they believe that attaching an elevator-type system to each car would be costly in install and difficult and costly to maintain. Because their capital resources have been and are expected to continue to be tight, Amtrak
has preferred to proceed with more reliable nonmechanical systems to be available at the station. However, Amtrak has agreed to take another look at the possibility of proceeding with a car-by-car approach.
Mr. McMILLAN. One final question. It has to do with the liability under the act. Amtrak is, and I think is being encouraged by circumstances to try to utilize more private sources of funding in financing its capital expenditures, which I think is an appropriate thing to do.
Does this impose any liability upon the lender under this legisla. tion?
Mr. LINDSEY. I don't believe it does, Mr. McMillan, but perhaps that merits a closer look, too. I am not aware of any provision that would do that.
Mr. McMILLAN. Certainly, that would simply elevate the cost of borrowing, and is something perhaps we should address if we possibly can. Thank you very much.
Mr. LUKEN. As I indicated, there are more questions, but little time. But there is one that I believe we have to go into a little bit, and that is the question of paratransit. Paratransit could be a very costly proposition, right? Paratransit, as I understand it, appears to be directed primarily at urban transportation, to bus systems. If the buses in use are not accessible, the bus system must, on request, provide some alternative transportation to the disabled.
Is that about your understanding of it, Mr. Shane or Mr. Cline?
Mr. SHANE. That is indeed the way we read the Senate bill, and we base that reading to a great extent on the Senate report, which talks about fixed-route bus transportation in the discussion of the paratransit obligation.
Mr. Cline may want to supplement that answer, but I think by and large, that is the way we see the paratransit obligation coming down. Mr. LUKEN. Well, does it apply to Amtrak as written?
Mr. SHANE. No, it would not, and we don't see that it would apply to even commuter rail service.
Mr. CLINE. The bill says that the paratransit provisions are applicable to fixed-route transit. The bill did not define fixed-route transit, but the Senate report language defined fixed-route transit as being bus transportation.
Mr. LUKEN. That is as simple as it is? Do you think that is very clear?
Mr. SHANE. I wouldn't want to promise you that anybody won't make an argument that paratransit applies to either Amtrak or commuter rail, but we think that would be a reach in terms of what we understand the legislative intent to have been.
Mr. LUKEN. We will ask Mr. Claytor the same question, and if you have any thoughts on the way home about this, something that you would like to elaborate on, I think we should tie that down. It would appear not to be intended to apply to commuter rail or any rail transportation.
I suppose-even the commuter rail, any kind of rail, is that right?
Mr. SHANE. The distances involved in commuter rail or intercity rail are both beyond that which we think paratransit was designed to cover.