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Whether you think it is a civil right or whether you think it isn't a civil right, you still want to achieve the same thing; the most amount of mobility for the most appropriate amount of funds. So we would emphasize this coordination of our efforts.
Mr. MINETA. Mr. Downey, regarding the rail provisions of the bill, what criteria were used in New York to identify key rail stations to be made available or accessible?
Mr. DOWNEY. The process, Mr. Chairman, was one of negotiation, partially in conjunction with litigation that was going on and partially in conjunction with prospective state legislation. We sat down with representatives of the disabled community, identified the stations that showed the greatest promise for serving large numbers of people, those stations that were downtown locations, those that were good transfer sites, those that were out at the ends of lines, and we created some flexibility in the process.
The legislature specified 38 of our 465 stations by name and set up a further process where each side, so to speak, would designate another 8 stations or 9 stations. In fact, as it worked out, we jointly designated the remainder and retained some flexibility, as time goes on, to make substitutions and changes in that list.
But it is a relatively small number of stations that cover a wide portion of the system. It will be done over time. There is a timetable for expenditures in the legislation, but not a specific deadline by which the process would be finished. But the cooperative work that went into it has really served us well.
We are now at the point, four years or five years after the bill passed, that the first of those stations are now complete. We will be seeing, within the next year, increasing numbers of stations available and, hopefully, increasing numbers of disabled riders using them.
Mr. MINETA. What has been the experience of the New York MTA in the usage of wheel chair lift-equipped buses in fixed-route service in the metropolitan area?
Mr. LOUWERSE. We operate two separate systems within the metropolitan area. One, of course, is the large system serving New York City. One is a smaller suburban system. In the city system, we have a bus fleet of 3,800 buses. As of today, about 2,900 of them are lift equipped or 76 percent. We should have that closer to 84 percent when our next bus order is complete. As we have gotten closer to the point of a full lift-equipped fleet, we have seen the rate of increase in the usage go up dramatically.
Four years ago, we were carrying about 11,000 people per year on lift-equipped buses. We are now carrying at a rate of about 40,000 persons per year. That works out to somewhere in the neighborhood in 150 rides a day. But the point is, it is growing very rapidly now that that service is perceived as one that is fully reliable, that basically all buses in the off-peak hours and weekend hours, and the vast majority of buses in the peak hours are lift equipped, people are coming out and using it.
Mr. SHUSTER. Let me follow up on the 150 rides a day. How many lift-equipped buses do you have?
Ms. PIERCE. We have, as of this point, about 2,900 lift-equipped buses in the fleet.
Mr. SHUSTER. Which provide 150 rides a day?
Mr. SHUSTER. It has been mentioned that the demonstration project raises the problem of the lack of universal applicability of securement devices. How do most transit authorities with experience with lift equipped buses currently deal with this problem?
Mr. DOWNEY. We have a standard fleet of buses. They all have the same lift and the same securement device. It functions well with the majority of wheel chair users. To the extent that it does not secure any of the existing wheel chairs, it is a point of concern to us, and we instruct the passenger to do whatever they can to assure that their wheel chair is not going to move around.
But we would be more comfortable if we knew that there was a device that all those who present themselves to us could make use of.
Mr. SHUSTER. You talked about the need to redefine the exemption from comparable paratransit. We had testimony earlier today from the Cambria Transit Authority, which has selected to go the route of lifts on all their buses. I believe if that is the decision that they feel is the best decision for that area, then they should be able to make that decision.
Right across, on the other side of the mountain from Johnstown, Cambria County, is Altoona, Pennsylvania where they have no lifts on the buses but a very extensive paratransit program. What is your view about the various transit authorities being able to make those decisions? Should the transit authorities have the flexibility to decide all lifts and no paratransit, all paratransit and no lifts, or somewhere in between, or should we mandate at the Federal level what this should be?
Mr. LOUWERSE. I would say that you are finding in the industry, even in the small systems, an increase in the purchase of fixedroute buses with lifts. For example, I know there is some consideration in Altoona right now to look at potentially some vehicles with lifts. The question is like, in my case, we ordered 20 out of 30 with lifts because that is what we feel we need to do the job.
So do we need to spend additional money for the 10 which we don't think we really need? The emphasis I would, again, make is, obviously, there are unique and individual circumstances. I will give you an example of a system in Pennsylvania that has four vehicles. They have a bus, a specialized van, and two station wagons. What is the ADA going to say to that system? Are they going to say, "Well, now are going to get a bus with a lift on,” which might be all right, but your specialized van has to run comp'arable service. So that means you are going to have to cut service for some of your people because now you only have three vehicles instead of, practically, four.
I think what you will find is that there are a lot of systems out there. I think that is being really missed. We hear about the people that are struggling, and there are some places where there is some turmoil. But there are a lot of places where there is a lot of agreement, where you have local people reaching proper decisions on how to best serve their people.
I would say that the greater the amount of flexibility you can provide to the local people to make their own determination, the
more responsive that situation will be. I don't think you will find a major outcry if you say, "We think you need to seriously need to look at putting lifts on all new purchases of buses.” But I think if you demand comparability, you are going to demand reductions in service. But if you say lifts on buses and coordination with your specialized transportation system, you will see increased mobility.
Mr. DOWNEY. I would concur in the same view and draw attention to some special issues like commuter railroads where, as the Chairman indicated, the use of the paratransit as a feeder may be a very appropriate way to make use of both modes. But the parallel 100 mile trips on commuter rail is, probably, a good use of re
Mr. SHUSTER. Let me come back to the lift issue again, because I am having great difficulty with it. I mentioned Cambria County which testified earlier today and, indeed, was presented here as the great example of a success story because of all the promotion that went far beyond the issue of simply providing lifts, by providing 100 percent lift, six years in operation.
Yet the statistics they presented was one ride every three days, per bus. Check me on your arithmetic in New York, Mr. Downey. You have 2,900 lift-equipped buses and 150 rides a day. That is one ride per day for every 19 buses.
Mr. Downey. I think that is the right arithmetic, yes.
Mr. SHUSTER. I am just astonished by those statistics and how that can be presented as having satisfied the needs of the disabled, when you only have one disabled person on every 19 buses. For every 19 buses out there, one disabled ride a day. It seems to me, there have got to be more disabled people out there who are not being served, it seems to me.
Mr. LOUWERSE. If I may, I ran these numbers last night before I came down here because I think it raises the issue that you have pointed out so succinctly, and that is, we have 14 specialized transportation vehicles that are lift-equipped. We did, last month, 4,547 wheel chair rides on those 14 vehicles.
If you figure five days a week, some days six, depending on how days fell and so on and so forth. Those vehicles cost about $25,000 apiece as opposed to $150,000-some for a transit vehicle. I have, personally, severe reservations that if I took these specialized vehicles off the street and put all lifts on my vehicles, that I would be carrying 4,574 wheel chair users in a little town like Reading, Pennsylvania.
I have made a conscious decision and recommendation to my board, which they approved to put lifts on some of my buses. I am doing the same program that-as you know, Harold Jenkins and I are good personal friends. We are now beginning the program. We are marketing it. We are training our drivers.
I have some severe reservations about whether I made an investment of probably $10,000 to $15,000 a bus plus all that training, and I keep wondering how many of my people really want it. I know from my public, they said, "If we take our vans away, we are going to send you out of town.
Your question is very well taken, I think.
Mr. SHUSTER. This raises a very fundamental-almost a dichotomy, I believe. And I draw on my own personal family experience which I referred to here earlier. It is one thing, entirely, for what I would describe as my good friends, Viet Nam vets who are paralyzed, for example. These are healthy guys who can't walk. And they have the ability to get around, to move those wheel chairs around, to get to the bus stop, to get up on the bus.
They have great mobility, although limited in one respect, as opposed to a senior citizen in a wheel chair who simply doesn't have the strength, the capacity, to get from the house to the bus stop. There is an enormous difference here.
I would say with great respect to my friends who have testified here, mostly from the Washington area, the Viet Nam vets for whom I have the greatest respect, that this represents one category, one point of view—those people who are vigorous, in their youth, yet, and who have the ability to move about, which is entirely different from our senior citizens in wheel chairs.
I think we have got to be very careful here that we not only give great weight to the testimony of these healthy people who happen to have a disability, but also the people who are senior citizens and who don't have that same vigorous health.
I think it is enormously important that we don't skew our thinking because I believe most of the testimony we have received is from the category of what I would say is the healthy person with a disability.
Do you disagree with that?
Mr. LOUWERSE. I would agree 100 percent. I would certainly invite you to come to Reading any time, or any members of the committee. I think that is one of the problems. There has been the discussion about this being a national crisis. I am not saying it isn't a crisis for certain individuals in their life, and there are some major metropolitan areas where the whole idea of mainline accessibility is different.
As you said, you have different types of people who have professional mobility. But there is Mrs. Jones that I have to take 40 miles one way—that is 80 miles a day-to go to the hospital. I have to deal with that realistically every day. And there are other services exactly the same way. I am afraid that this broad-range brush is really going to result in less mobility, and you are not going to hear from I hate to sort of use this term, but I will the silent majority who want curb-to-curb service.
Mr. SHUSTER. Thank you very much.
Mr. Downey, the rail service that you were referring to: is that commuter rail or is that inside New York City Rapid Transit System?
Mr. DOWNEY. The key station concept agreement that I referred to had to do with our subway system inside New York City. We also operate two commuter railroads; the Long Island Railroad and Metro North. While we have no current legislative vehicle or settlement agreement that covers those railroads, we have also proceeded considerably towards making them accessible.
Each of those two railroads has about 50 accessible stations as of this time.
Mr. LIPINSKI. That is 50 out of how many, sir?
Mr. DOWNEY. Fifty out of each of them is about 120, 130 stations, So we are-Mr. LIPINSKI. 260, 250?
Mr. DOWNEY. Yes; close to half of our commuter rail stations have become accessible.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Wait a second. You said you made 50 of them accessible? Mr. DOWNEY. Fifty on each of two railroads. Mr. LIPINSKI. So you have 100 out of about 250 or so? Mr. DOWNEY. Yes.
Mr. LIPINSKI. On your rapid transit system within New York City, itself, how many stations do you have, total?
Mr. DOWNEY. 465.
Mr. LIPINSKI. How many have you managed to make accessible so far?
Mr. DOWNEY. So far, five under the program that was agreed to four years ago, three more to be completed within the next few weeks; five or six others that were constructed as part of our new routes program, so we are currently, or by the end of this year, should be at about fourteen or fifteen accessible, stations.
Mr. LIPINSKI. How long have you been working on that? Mr. DOWNEY. Aggressively since 1985 when the legislation in the State of New York passed. Mr. LIPINSKI. So about five years? Mr. DOWNEY. We have been at it about four years.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Four years, and you have managed to convert eight of them, plus you have built six new ones?
Mr. DOWNEY. Six new stations, yes.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I assume that the 100 that you have made accessible on your commuter rail has been in the last four years, also?
Mr. DOWNEY. Most of those have been in the last four years with the remarkable exception of Grand Central Terminal which is seventy-five years old and through planning at the time, other than good architectural design, was an accessible terminal.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Discounting the six new stations that you built that were built accessible, do you have any idea what the cost was of converting these 118 stations?
Mr. Downey. The conversion costs within the New York City system have run-it depends on the station and on its own architecture, but they have run from $2 million to $5 million each. The costs on the commuter railroads have been far less because, in most cases, we have been able to do that with ramps leading to the high-level platforms that we use in conjunction with commuter trains.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Do you have any idea what that figure is on the commuter railroad?
Mr. DOWNEY. No. I could provide that for the record. I think we have spent, perhaps, $15 million or $20 million in the last five or six years. In many cases, it was in conjunction with the construction of high-level platforms, really at no additional cost because the ramp is used by all of the riders.