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In summary, the plan calls for the following; full performance mainline accessible service, paratransit service to supplement mainline service at the level which we can afford; region-wide eligibility and certification for the paratransit service; financial perimeters for meeting the goals of the plan within our statutorily-required 50 percent fare box recovery ratio.
Mr. Chairman, we are aware that some parts of our plan may not comply with the final version of the ADA. However, it is important to point out that this plan was developed to comply with existing requirements. The plan is flexible and we will attempt to make whatever changes are necessary to comply with any new ones.
The principal challenge of the ADA to the RTA is reconciling our responsibilities to our disabled consumers with the needs of the $2.5 million daily riders who rely on us to deliver safe, timely and efficient service every day. Unfortunately, the bill approved by the Senate gives us reason to be concerned that, as we meet this challenge, unrealistic federal standards may be substituted for realistic and workable local action.
We are particularly concerned with three aspects of the Senate bill; those are, the requirements for comparable paratransit seryice, commuter-rail accessibility and key station accessibility. Allow me to discuss each one very briefly.
Concerning the paratransit requirement, the Senate bill requires that a comparable level of service be provided to those who cannot use mainline accessible service. The word comparable can be too easily interpreted to mean duplicative services we simply cannot afford. There is a provision allowing a somewhat reduced level of service to be provided if meeting the full requirement would pose an undue financial burden.
Unfortunately, key questions relating to the definitions of comparable service and undue financial burden, and to the eligibility for paratransit service are left unanswered in the statute. With regard to commuter-rail vehicle accessibility, the Senate bill fails to recognize the operational differences between commuter rail and rapid rail service.
METRA has now determined that it will make each cab car accessible by equipping it with a lift, thereby making each train accessible. However, the requirement to make every rail car accessible to the disabled would be unnecessarily costly.
On key stations, neither the Senate bill nor the committee report defines its terms. This welcomes legislation at the local level over how that term is defined for each system. This issue of key stations is a crucial area of local operational decision making. Mr. Chairman, the well-intentioned efforts of the Senate have resulted in a complicated and ill-defined set of requirements which are likely to result in a long delay in the implementation of the bill and put the implementation in the hands of judges.
We want to see our mobility limited population on our buses and trains, not in court. What we need is a law which relies on local processes like the one we have pursued in our region to make important definitional and operational decisions. Congress should set the broad standards and set the perimeters for a local process to flesh out the details.
In closing, allow me to state that we share with you a desire to enact a bill on transit for the disabled which will work. We will be charged with making it work at the local level, a charge, I might add, which will come from the federal government with no new dollars to help make it work. While we prepare to assume the financial and operational responsibility for compliance with the ADA, we urge Congress to recognize that our system of federalism works best when each level of government is allowed to do what it does best.
The federal government is best suited to develop broad national standards, particularly those designed to help the less fortunate. Local and regional government is best suited to implement such standards in a way which recognizes local conditions.
Mr. Chairman, the ADA will be a triumph if the federal government and local authorities each do what they do best. We hope to celebrate that triumph with you and our disabled community in the coming years.
Mr. MINETA. Thank you very much. Mr. Donenfeld
Mr. DONENFELD. I am a board member with the Chicago Transit Authority, better known as the CTA, and Chairman of its Finance Audit and Budget Committee. It is a pleasure to be before the Subcommittee today. I would like to also request that we be given an opportunity, before the record is closed on this legislation, to submit written testimony.
CTA is the second largest operating agency in the United States and is responsible for providing 581 million rides on the bus and rapid transit system along with 800,000 paratransit rides each year. Our paratransit service is the largest in the United States.
In addition, we will shortly be receiving the first order on 791 buses with lifts. I would like to elaborate on a point made in the RTA's testimony. Our concern relates to the operational impacts the legislation will have on older rapid transit systems like the CTA. The rapid transit system is a vital part of our system which provides over 1.9 million rides to people in the Chicago area each weekday.
CTA's rapid transit system is large and very old. The core system dates back to the turn of the century. The system consists of six lines covering 215 miles of track and 142 stations. Two independent engineering studies have found that CTA should spend over $4 billion during the next ten years to bring our infrastructure up to good condition.
While the CTA will be hard-pressed to absorb the Congressional mandate to fund an accelerated accessibility program for rail stations, in addition to maintaining the rail system in a safe and efficient manner, we recognize that the legislation includes a twentyyear compliance period that provides some relief for the extraordinary cost problem.
Ultimately, the extent of such cost burdens, as well as other operational difficulties, will be determined by the number of key stations that must be made accessible. The Senate's Committee report states that key stations will be determined locally with the cooperation of the disabled community.
While the CTA has in place an agreement on accessible bus service with the disabled community, it does not have an agreement similar to those in New York and Philadelphia which accommodates the needs of those older rapid transit systems. Therefore, we are not certain how many key stations we will have to make accessible.
We agree that key stations should be made accessible. However, in setting a timetable for compliance, the Congress should take into account the unique problems associated with older rapid transit systems. Most CTA stations will need extraordinarily expensive structural changes to make them accessible. For elevated stations, it means modifying the structures to install elevators. In subways, it means tunneling elevator shafts.
Operating factors limit the amount of work CTA can perform on a line at one time. Disruptions in service caused by capital projects, accessibility-related or not, result in slow zones or single tracking zones which could mean as much as twenty to thirty minute delays for able-bodied passengers.
Since our main concern is to take people in a timely manner, CTA must carefully plan capital projects to minimize disruptions to service. Otherwise, riders will look forward towards other alternatives like the automobile.
Increased use of the automobile will, in turn, exacerbate the other problems urban areas are facing. Air pollution and compliance with the Clean Air Act and congestion are questions and issues debated and handled by Congress in various forums. We, therefore, recommend that special consideration be given to the se rious operational impacts caused by compliance with the rail system accessibility provisions by allowing the Secretary of Transportation the ability to extend the time period longer than twenty years where there is undue operational difficulty.
Thank you very much for the time. I would be very happy to answer any questions the committee might have.
Mr. MINETA. Thank you. Mr. Gambaccini.
Mr. GAMBACCINI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, my name is Lou Gambaccini. I am Chief Operations Officer and General Manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, more familiarly known to most as SEPTA. I am pleased to be here to have the opportunity to present this testimony with respect to the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1989.
While we support the intention to provide improved service to the disabled, we do have a number of cost and operational concerns with the Senate bill. Mr. Chairman, you have before you a ninepage statement. I will not read the entire thing. I will try to hit the highlights and, perhaps, even elaborate on one or two points.
I do have some passion on the subject. I have been involved in transit for some thirty years and involved in elderly and disabled matters for some twenty, including active participation at the national scene some twenty years ago.
I have been on the SEPTA scene for a little over a year, and I find the SEPTA system magnificent in some respects and awesomely difficult to rehabilitate in others. The system embraces five counties, an area with a population of some 3.5 million. We handle 1.2 million day. The extent and reach of the system is probably without comparison in the country proportionate to the size of the region and in consideration the inadequacy of the highway system and in the face of economic growth and prosperity that has marked the region. Yet we are facing $4 billion to $5 billion, in 1988 dollars, in needed rehabilitation to make up for the neglect over the last several decades, more than half of it in the divested Conrail passenger services.
On the one hand, this is a major asset that offers great potential for the region, for the nation and the future. On the other hand, it is a context in which we have great difficulty facing the financial needs and getting on with the job.
In parallel with that, our operating budgets, federal, state and local, have not kept pace with the combination of both inflation and needed improvements in service. We have overcrowded routes. We can't handle the pressure of growth of people presenting themselves for service. And we simply cannot accommodate the additional service.
So we have a financial crunch. Last year, SEPTA provided service to some 1.2 million passenger trips for disabled persons by accessible bus, accessible rail and paratransit. We were an early, active participant in working with the handicapped community, having set up an advisory committee in 1974 and having commenced paratransit in 1981.
This past summer, the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association of the City of Philadelphia and SEPTA entered into an agreement to guarantee the purchase of only accessible buses in the future and to expand the number of key rail stations to 42—I would note that my testimony that you have before you shows 45. That is a typographical error. It should be 42—or approximately 16 percent of the system.
By November of this year, 48 percent of our bus fleet will be liftequipped. As I indicate, we have committed to the purchase of only lift-equipped buses in the future.
Mr. Chairman, I won't go through point by point. We have several points listed in the remainder of the testimony that go to what we think are serious problems requiring technical correction in the legislation. I will hit them, at least a couple of them, in highlights.
For example, the first point has to do with existing rail vehicles. We agree that, to the extent reasonable, rail vehicles should be made to accommodate the handicapped. We have removed seats. However, there are limits. Indeed, there should be specific language in the legislation precluding the necessity to modify existing rail vehicles when major structural change is required.
It is, in some cases, completely unfeasible or the costs are prohibitive. We do tend to agree, at least in our case, that future bus purchases should be handicapped equipped as should rail cars. To that end, we have purchased our most recent fleet, the Bombardier cars, each with rail accessibility-that is, wheel chair accessibility-and the cars in production for the Norristown High Speed line are similarly being accommodated.
The next point: we have street car operations twice as large as the next largest system in the country. We believe there should be explicit language exempting street cars from accessibility. To do otherwise would be to provide great safety hazards. Most of our streetcar routes are in the middle of streets requiring the handicapped to cross active lanes of traffic, where there is not sufficient
room to accommodate both the lift devices intruding into the active lanes of traffic and room for wheel chairs to maneuver to get onto those vehicles.
We think it is utterly unrealistic to require accessibility to our street trolley routes where they exist in concert, or at grade level, with traffic on the streets as well.
We agree with the Senate Committee that it is best to leave the selection of which stations are key to each locality. We are pleased that we reached agreement through negotiation with our handicapped community and we think that that decision about which are key stations must be a local determination.
The criteria that guided us in our discussions with our handicapped community had to do with ridership volumes, major transfer points, balanced regional coverage, some of the physical constraints that involved some of the stations, the costs and funding availability.
I believe that the handicapped community was sensitive to the cost and funding availability problem and, therefore, was realistic about schedule and timing of some of the key station improvements and, indeed, further have actively joined our political coalition to seek additional funding at all levels of Government, Federal, State and local, to help both operating and capital.
The Senate bill creates a requirement requiring full bus and key rail station accessibility plus extensive paratransit service. We would raise a major concern and caveat about what is intended about the parallel and additional paratransit service. As we read the bill, it could also be read to require transit operators to deal with extraneous—that is extraneous to the transit system-commitments such as curb cuts, sidewalks, and to make up for deficiencies and underfunding of human service agency programs.
We think that, certainly, should not be an enlargement of the transit operator's burden.
In the bill, as we read it, it is possible to assume, and indeed it may even be the intent, that comparable response time on paratransit be required. That, in our opinion, is utterly unrealistic. We have routes that are providing intervals of service of five to ten or fifteen minutes. The volumes, under the most extreme projections of potential handicapped demand, simply cannot justify that and, in my opinion, I share Hank Mayer's view that there is no way that that kind of service can be provided in parallel with fully-accessible buses and accessible rail.
So some balancing must be required and the mandate cannot be from the Federal Government with respect to the specifics, thereto.
On Page 7, we cite the overall concern about undue financial burden. It can be said that virtually any requirement of additional service, whatsoever, can be said to be an undue financial burden in the context that I described at the outset, particularly in consideration of the fact that the Federal Government in the last ten years has reduced, on an annual basis, to Philadelphia, operating assistance by more than 50 percent cumulatively, capital assistance in constant dollars by more than 64 percent and has frozen the flow of funds from the Transit Trust Fund.
There is no further capacity from any current or projected funding source to significantly expand service. So, in effect, what we