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passengers with a handicap that public transportation can be a safe and reliable means of transportation.
As a result of our educational efforts, we carried an average of 200 passengers in wheel chairs a month during the first eleven months of operation in 1980. That 200 a month with only seven accessible buses. By 1983, our entire fleet of 27 buses was accessible with the result that we now carry over 3,000 passengers in wheel chairs each year.
In addition, we annually transport about 36,000 passengers with other disabilities. And we carry this number despite the inclement weather and hilly terrain. Why? Commitment, a strong commitment to quality transit.
Another important component of our program has been driver training. In addition to receiving basic training in lift operation, all operators receive intensive sensitivity training. Drivers complete a comprehensive course consisting of films, wheel chair familiarity, boarding procedures, securement and emergency evacuation.
Drivers also spend a portion of their training period confined to a wheel chair in order to enhance their sensitivity to the various needs and feelings of passengers with disabilities.
Another vital component of our program is wheel chair lift maintenance. There is no worse experience for a passenger in a wheel chair than to arrive at a bus stop expecting an accessible bus only to find that the lift doesn't work. A quality maintenance program is critical. Drivers are also required by union contract to cycle their lift prior to beginning their work day. This procedure has benefits for the mechanical components of the lift.
It also assures the operator that he or she has a functioning lift. If it does not operate properly, the operator is prohibited from leaving the garage with that bus. All these steps I have discussed go beyond the letter of the law but without them, we believe an accessible system will be doomed to failure.
Fin ly, let me briefly touch upon several objections to accessibility which are frequently raised. One objection concerns the weather. In Cambria County, we experience about 48 inches of precipitation each year. 30 inches of that precipitation is snow. Compounding this situation is a geography marked by steep hills. Consequently, it would be easy to assume that these apparent obstacles would significantly prohibit the utilization of our accessible system.
However, we have seen no appreciable difference in utilization rates from season to season. We attribute this fact to the tenacity of our wheel chair riders as well as to the community education service discussed earlier. On inclement days, our wheel chair riders have been instructed to call us prior to venturing outside in order to make sure that the bus is on time.
They have already come to trust the fact that when the bus arrives, it will have an operating lift. This combination of education and fidelity to lift maintenance is largely responsible for reducing inclement weather as a utilization factor.
Another objection concerns cost, the cost of the lift and its maintenance. We are in public transit to provide service to the public. It is that simple. Persons with handicaps are members of the public. Therefore, we view the cost of equipping and maintaining buses with lifts as we do our other expenses. It is the cost of doing business.
For example, if a bus' air conditioning breaks, the expense of fixing it is seen as a standard operating expense. It is that simple. Our experience demonstrates that once an honest commitment is made to provide quality accessible service, maintenance costs can be controlled. Our maintenance history over the past nine years has confirmed this point. With respect to lift costs, the cost per lift will go down as lift utilization increases.
Our experience shows that the type of lift_use has a major impact on the cost associated with repairing it. Therefore, close attention should be directed to the maintenance track records of the various lifts. Secondly, advances in lift technology should soon reduce the overall maintenance costs. Thirdly, and most importantly, lift utilization will increase as the degree of commitment and quality of service increases. It is the only saying that, “As you sow, so shall you reap.'
A third objection centers on the slowing down of the system due to the extra time it takes to unload and load passengers in wheel chairs. We, initially, conducted time studies to document this fear. After six months we discontinued the study because the time factor was seen as insignificant. We have carried about 15,000 passengers in wheelchairs since 1980 and have never received one complaint from ambulatory passengers about time delays due to wheel-chair transport.
The last objection, often raised, cites problems with unions. When a transit system makes an honest commitment from the outset to establish a credible accessible system, union problems will not exist. But if the union senses that management's commitment is lackluster, the door may be open for problems. As I said before, our union contract actually requires operators to cycle their lifts prior to their shift. This was an easy clause to get into the contract because the union understands the degree of management commitment.
The special training received by operators also reinforces this commitment. I would ask this august body to seriously consider the Senate version of the bill and, with some fine tuning, I think this is a piece of legislation that can work not only for Johnstown but work for the rest of the country.
Thank you very much for affording me the opportunity to appear in front of you today.
Mr. MINETA. Thank you very much, Mr. Jenkins. Let me ask the panel first, the ADA assumes that a certain number of disabled will be able to use fixed-route transit service with paratransit services provided for “those who cannot, otherwise, use the fixed-route system.” Have any of you been able to determine what percentage of the disability community would be able to use accessible fixedroute service if it were available?
Mr. CAPOZZI. It is hard to determine. You need to look at each community individually. Most communities-Johnstown is a good example; Seattle is a good example-most cities that have a commitment to 100 percent accessible fleets and already have 100 percent accessible fleets, will experience very high ridership.
I analogize it to the Metro system here in Washington. People in wheel chairs know that they can get off at every single subway stop. So there is a very high usage of the subway system. If they knew that they could only get off at maybe half of the stops but they didn't know which half, chances are that people wouldn't use it very much.
So it is hard to say how many people are going to use the transit systems until you know that the system is 100 percent accessible, so that you can predict that when you want to go from Point A to Point B, you can get there.
I wouldn't use the Metro system every day to go back and forth to work if I didn't know that I could get from Shady Grove to Farragut North. If I knew that one stop was going to be out on a particular day but I didn't know which day it was going to be or what stop it was going to be, I might not use that system even though I was able to use it.
So that is very hard to predict. But most individuals can, as Harold explains, with proper training for the transit folks, with proper training for the people with disabilities, most people can use public transportation. It is not a big deal. If you can get to the bus stop, or if you can get to the bus route, in Detroit, you can use it.
Mr. MINETA. Sir, with 96 inches of snowfall annually in Buffalo, they have committed to 100 percent accessibility on their bus and light rail systems. Are you aware of any other cities in the United States which could not meet a 100 percent accessibility require ment because they have more snowfall than Buffalo?
Mr. JENKINS. I don't know what the snowfall is in the other cities, sir. There probably are not too many that get more than that.
Mr. MINETA. Mr. Shuster was suggesting maybe Nome, Alaska. Mr. JENKINS. Possibly.
Mr. MINETA. Mr. Jenkins, in your statement, you cite the importance of wheel chair lift maintenance. Do you have any figures available on your transit authority's costs on a per-bus basis for lift maintenance?
Mr. JENKINS. Our cost for maintaining the three different types of lifts varies from almost practically zero from one particular manufacturer's type of lift that is not available to any other bus to about I would say $7,000 or $8,000 a year-I would say $7,000 a year-on the lifts that are on the other two models of buses.
I operate a bus system of twenty-seven buses with three different types of buses. The GMC-RTS-4 buses, the Grummon Flexible, or it is called the Flexible, and the Neoplan buses. The RTS lift, in my personal opinion, is the best lift that is manufactured in the industry today. The maintenance costs on that are just about zero. It is part of your normal maintenance program.
The cost on the other two lifts sometimes can get a little higher.
Mr. MINETA. Some of your colleagues in the transit industry have indicated that they would prefer to provide paratransit services for those using wheel chairs rather than making their fixedroute accessible. Cambria County has made their entire fleet accessible, a choice which, in my mind, seems to be the more cost-effective way to carry members of the disabled community who use wheel chairs.
What factors led your system to the decision to have a 100 percent accessible fixed-route system?
Mr. JENKINS. As we went out through the community-we took over from the private carrier in 1976-and started to prepare our planning process to purchase buses beginning in 1982, we went to the community to find out what they needed and what they wanted, as far as public transportation was concerned. One of the major things that they wanted was the handicapped groups, and a lot of non-handicapped groups, said that we should have accessible buses and we should have a transit system that is accessible to everybody in the community.
So we immediately made that commitment. Our Board of Directors voted and adopted that policy back in 1981. As we started purchasing new buses, then we purchased nothing but accessible wheel chair buses. We have found that to be a very simple answer to the question of providing accessible transportation in the community. And it has worked quite well for us.
Mr. MINETA. When you were talking about the figures as they relate to the lift maintenance costs, how does that cost compare relative to the cost of maintaining other bus components such as air conditioning or engines or brakes or transmissions?
Mr. JENKINS. In each and every particular case each and every bus is an individual bus, by itself. It is just like a person. Some of them work quite well and some of them are breaking down constantly. You buy a lemon in an automobile; occasionally, you get a lemon out of the fleet in a bus. So you really can't pin it down to what each individual costs.
We feel that the cost of maintaining the lifts and the training that was needed to train our
mechanics to maintain the lift was just a cost of doing business. We complied with those charges just like we have with any other things that have come up.
But if you try to compare the cost of what you are picking up a passenger for and relating that only to those passengers, then you find that you might have some costs on some particular individual buses that might be a little high.
One thing that I might just add; in 1981, when we made this commitment to buy accessible buses, the former Johnson Traction Company, which was a private carrier, never had a bus with air conditioning on the streets in Johnstown. So that when we made the commitment for the accessible buses, we made a commitment for air conditioning. We knew that there was going to be a cost associated with both, and we have accepted that cost.
Mr. MINETA. Mr. Shuster?
We certainly appreciate your testimony. Of course Harold Jenkins is my good friend. I have worked with him closely for many years. I have the highest regard for him. I think your outreach pro gram that you have outlined here today, Harold, indicates if there is anybody in the country that can make it work, you can. It is an example of going far beyond simply providing the lift, but educating the community that it is there so you can maximize your ridership.
As I understand it, the entire fleet of 27 buses has been accessible since 1983 so that is for six years, now. And you have had this outreach program. One of the things that puzzles me a bit; with that kind of an outstanding outreach program, and with six years, now, of experience and you check me on this arithmetic-with 27 buses, 3,000 passengers in wheel chairs, if you assume only a sixday week, that works out to one rider every three days on each bus; is that accurate?
Mr. JENKINS. Yes, if you do the math like that. But you can also reverse the math and say that where the wheel-chair handicapped passengers live is where the buses that are getting ten and twelve lifts a day. There might not be a person who needs a lift on every route or every block in your community.
But you are absolutely right on your figures.
Mr. SHUSTER. So, per bus, it is one rider every three days which concerns me. The other thing that concerns me is that we talk about 100 percent accessible. But, as I understand it, with Cambria Transit, every bus has a lift, but there is no paratransit system.
Mr. JENKINS. We run a paratransit system and a fixed-route system in our rural parts of Cambria County, not in our urban division.
Mr. SHUSTER. Where these buses run, there is no paratransit.
Mr. SHUSTER. So to say there is 100 percent accessibility, really, isn't completely accurate. There is 100 percent accessible for people who can get on the bus. There is zero accessible for people in wheel chairs who can't get to the bus. There is no paratransit service.
Mr. JENKINS. There is somebody else in the community that is providing that service. We have never, never had one request for a paratransit trip in the Cambria County Transit Authority and in the urban system.
Mr. SHUSTER. There is somebody else providing that service?
Mr. JENKINS. They get funded through both Federal and state programs; Area Agency on Aging
Mr. SHUSTER. Under this law, you will be required if this becomes law-you will be required to provide comparable paratransit service.
Mr. JENKINS. Under this portion of the law, I would be responsible, under the Senate version, for coordinating that service.
Mr. SHUSTER. So you would be responsible for providing comparable service?
Mr. JENKINS. Right; coordinating it.
Mr. SHUSTER. The bill says you would be responsible for providing comparable service. That is what the language of the bill is.
Mr. JENKINS. The House bill. Mr. SHUSTER. How would you do that? Mr. JENKINS. I guess I would have to do it just like I have done with any other federal programs that come along. I would cope and do it. It would be some cost to me and it would be a cost to my