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Mr. MINETA. I would now like to call forward a panel representing the American Public Transit Association; Mort Downey, Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York accompanied by Janis V. Pierce, Board Member, Memphis Area Transit Authority, Dennis Louwerse, Executive Director, Berks Area Reading Transportation Authority.
TESTIMONY OF MORTIMER DOWNEY, CHAIRMAN, APTA LEGISLA
TIVE SUBCOMMITTEE, FEDERAL POLICY AND PROCEDURE, EX. ECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, NEW YORK, NY, ACCOMPANIED BY JANIS PIERCE, APTA VICE PRESIDENT, GOV. ERNING BOARDS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, MEMPHIS AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, AND DENNIS LOUWERSE, MEMBER, APTA LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE, APTA ELDERLY AND DISABLED SERVICES TASK FORCE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BERKS AREA READING TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY
Mr. Downey. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee. As you indicated, my name is Mort Downey from New York. I will be providing APTA's testimony. I am accompanied by Janis Pierce from the Memphis Area Transit Authority and Dennis Louwerse from Berks Area Reading Transportation Authority, Reading, Pennsylvania,
Mr. Robinson is stuck in Michigan due to the flight conditions today. He could not get out of Grand Rapids.
Mr. Chairman, I would ask your permission to put our full statement in the record and merely summarize so that we can get on to your questions.
Mr. MINETA. I do not object.
Mr. DOWNEY. The transit industry which APTA represents, we believe, has achieved substantial progress in meeting and serving the needs of persons with disabilities and the elderly. Even as federal funding for transit has declined in recent years, the proportion of lift-equipped buses in the national fleet has grown from 11 percent in 1981 to more than 30 percent in 1987.
Individual systems are providing service to persons with disabilities through either the use of lift-equipped buses or supplementary paratransit, or a combination of both. New fully-accessible rail systems are now operating in many cities and accessibility improvements are being made to older rail systems as they are being modernized.
In our own system in New York City, the MTA and representatives of the disabled community reached agreement embodies in the state legislation designating a number of the stations within our system as key stations. These are being made fully accessible in conjunction with our station modernization program over a period of years.
The provision of bus lifts for our bus fleet and a city-sponsored paratransit system was also made part of this plan. Within each community, transit has worked with disability groups to meet the transportation needs of the disabled as best they can be met. Obviously, some systems have done a better job than others. Some have
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done it one way, some have done it another. Some have done it with less money.
It is clear that if everyone felt the needs of the disabled had been met, this legislative initiative might not be necessary. But we believe it is, and we pledge, today, to do everything possible to successfully implement the ADA when it is enacted into law.
The transit industry wants the business of disabled persons. We sincerely hope we can work with and enlist the support of persons with disabilities. But we must remember we are in the business of providing mobility to the entire community and we do not want to reduce service in other areas in order to fully fulfill our responsibility to this group of users.
We, thus solicit your support in helping us to implement this historic legislation. As the authorizing committee for public transportation, we ask that you recognize the cost to transit of this bill as you have recognized other costs in the past.
It is difficult to determine what those precise costs will be. But I think everyone would agree the measure will result in additional costs for most transit systems and that these costs could be substantial in all aspects; in the provision of lifts, in the cost of paratransit and in the cost of station access.
Without getting into the specifics of these costs which are covered, at least in general terms in our statement, and there are a range of costs in various cities, let me just comment on a few areas of particular concern.
In terms of the Act's requirement that systems provide comparable paratransit as supplement to fixed-route service, many small systems such as St. Cloud that we heard from just recently who stretched their minimal resources to provide the general use service through time transfers or a pulse system functioning around a common hub have real problems, since they operate with virtually no money to spare, requiring them to supplement their bare-bones service with fully-comparable paratransit could inevitable, or would inevitably, lead to elimination or reduction of some other service.
We would, therefore, request that the committee consider more specific criteria for consideration of exemption from the comparable paratransit requirement than just the "undue financial burden” exemption currently included in the bill. I might note from looking at other testimony that will be given this afternoon, this is a concern for large systems as well as small.
We must also note our concerns regarding the safety of transporting individuals in wheel chairs and the responsibility our transit operators will have for their safety while riding on the bus or rail vehicle. Mr. Robinson would have covered this in more detail in his statement, and we would like to provide that at a later time to the committee.
Currently, persons in wheel chairs cannot meet the governing NHTSA standard for safety unless they are fully strapped in with a three-point harness which could well create both operational and other problems.
The Easter Seal Society is now conducting a demonstration program which you heard of earlier which Congress funded and APTA has vigorously supported. This study, among other issues it addresses, is intended to deal with means by which persons in wheel chairs can be transported safely and with dignity on mass transit vehicles.
We would ask that the ultimate legislation address these concerns, including appropriate provisions for standardization and compatibility in securement of wheel chairs.
Finally, we ask that you, as members of the authorizing committee, and the people with disabilities recognize there will be costs, there will be a great deal of work, there will be obstacles involved in successfully implementing the act, and in serving, over time, the needs of the disabled at the same time we serve the needs of the rest of the population.
Thus, we request your continued and, we hope, your expanded commitment to the availability of mass transit for all of our nation's citizens. As we expand our mission to better serve the needs of disabled citizens, we should not reduce our commitment to others.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, we thank you for your attention to the statement and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Mr. Chairman, Ms. Pierce, who is with me, may have a time problem with respect to a flight and I would ask if she might say a few words before we get into questions, in case she has to leave.
Mr. MINETA. Surely. Please, Ms. Pierce, feel free to proceed.
Ms. PIERCE. Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to be here. I have been asked to outline the Memphis system and the effect that the Americans With Disabilities Act would have on our system. I have been a member of the Board for approximately eight years now. We have an extensive paratransit system.
One of the most difficult things that we have done in our deliberations on the Board has been to decide how best to allocate rather meager funds. This committee is probably more aware than most of the constant struggle that our public transit providers have with funding. Memphis is not unique. We are a metropolitan area of approximately a million. We are rapidly approaching a million.
Federal funding has, essentially, been frozen since 1981 with a resulting 50 percent reduction in purchasing power. Each year, we go head in hand to the federal, state and local government for funding. The federal funds have been cut. The state funds have increased, and local funds have, in fact, pretty much kept up with inflationary costs.
We do not have a dedicated source of funds. We do not have any means of levying a tax, instituting bonds or even borrowing money independently. Our state, constitutionally, cannot levy an income tax. Consequently, those tax funds that are those funds that would be necessary in order to implement this would come from the regressive taxes which would, in fact, hit those people who are our transit-dependent riders most heavily, from gasoline tax which, I think is already the highest in the nation. We have a 7.75 percent sales tax and user fees. All of these are very regressive.
At our current budget level, as, I think, everybody here has said, it is very difficult to estimate exactly what impact the ADA would have on systems, but we have, in fact, made a projection and a conservative, very conservative, estimate that takes in only the operat
ing costs and does not include any local capital share which we have assumed would come from other capital sources.
At our current budget level, the Memphis Area Transit Authority would have to eliminate 2.8 percent of its services or 193,626 miles annually. That is approximately 272,000 one-way trips, or 1.9 percent of our total ridership, would be lost due to required service cutbacks. We are, right now, on the verge of having to make either cutbacks or increased fare. Our fare is now 85 cents.
This is based only on additional operating costs which we have projected to be $363,000 per year. I think that is fairly conservative, considering that we have got 238 buses on the street and some 20 paratransit vehicles.
We have worked very closely during the time that I have been on the board, and this was already in place when I came on, with the handicapped community. Last month, for example, to answer some of the questions that came up earlier, or anticipate some of them, we had 10,300 handilift rides. We have an average of 20 wheel chair rides per day. The addition of lifts to our mainline service would not, in fact, probably provide service for the majority of our handicapped community.
The disabled community and the handilift service carries about 4 percent elderly, 10 to 12 percent are in wheel chair and the remaining 84 to 86 percent are, basically, cognitive disability people who go to sheltered workshops and the lifts would not help them.
We have, in the past years, worked with social service agencies to train some 188 of the cognitive disability people to ride our mainstream buses. This has been very helpful in financing and in providing space for additional people to use our handilift service.
In this current year, we will spend over 3 percent. We are not only meeting but surpassing the regulations under the 504 plan. An additional 2 percent, roughly, would be added by the Americans With Disabilities Act if, in fact, we have to provide comparable paratransit service
In order to continue to provide maximum service while comply. ing with the legislation, we would ask that Congress not require the operation of comparable paratransit, but that it should supple. ment or coordinate with the fixed-route buses, that the establishment of paratransit eligibility standards and service be left to the local communities and developed in conjunction with the disabled community and that those requirements that are established by Congress be funded by Congress.
The flexibility in determining-several people, including Mr. Capozzi, mentioned that it is difficult to pinpoint the number of people who would, in fact, move to mainline buses. We would, proh ably, have more riders if we did have mainline bus service. I think, even if we tripled our current wheel chair passengers, that would be 60 per day. That is two ways.
We would ask that there be standard criteria for wheel chair design in order to facilitate the accommodation of wheel chairs on mass transit vehicles and in mass transit facilities and to insure the safety of wheel chair passengers. The number of passengers who would be affected-I told you the percentages--but the numbers of passengers who would be affected if this goes into effect in its present form would be 272,000 rides for our people Memphis is 50th in a list of 50 cities that are approximately this size in per capita income. We are not a wealthy area. Seventy-eight percent of our people do not have any other means of transportation. Those 272,000 rides would, in fact, probably deprive those people of means of getting to their jobs as well and would, in fact, put them on welfare.
We have tried over the years to provide a balance of the most effective service for the most people in both areas.
I thank you for your interest and for allowing me to participate. Mr. MINETA. Thank you very much, Ms. Pierce. Mr. Downey, in your testimony, you asked the committee to consider using a more specific rationale than undue financial burden for exempting public transit operators from the paratransit provisions in the bill. As the MTA Chief Financial Officer, I am surprised that you have a problem with the concept of undue financial burden.
But more seriously, from your current view as well as your past experience as Assistant Secretary for Budget and Policy at the Department of Transportation, how would you suggest that we clarify this term or define it more precisely?
Mr. DOWNEY. I think it need to be defined both in terms-
Mr. MINETA. Ms. Pierce, thank you very, very much. I appreciate your being here as well as your service as a Board member there in the Memphis area.
Ms. PIERCE. Thank you, very much. I would be glad to answer any questions in writing. · Mr. MINETA. Thank you. Mr. Downey.
Mr. DOWNEY. I think the criteria have to be both financial and operational. I think the real concern is that paratransit service truly be supplementary, targeted for where it is needed and not offered so broadly as to create a real burden. That has been the approach, for example, in New York under the state legislation. We are offering both lift-equipped buses on our regular routes, and a paratransit service managed by the city.
It is clearly specified in our state legislation that that paratransit service is not to be duplicative of the trips that can be provided by the lift-equipped buses.
Mr. MINETA. Mr. Louwerse?
Mr. LOUWERSE. If I may, I am basically here to speak on behalf of the small operators throughout the country. I think one of our greatest concerns is this clause that says we need to provide comparable paratransit service. There are a number of small operators throughout the country who wonder about the wisdom of having to put lifts on their buses. There are many, for example my own system-I have been since in the 1970's operating a paratransit system that does about 25,000 rides a month, over 4,500 of which are for non-ambulatory persons.
We took an order of buses last month, and 10 of the 15 buses are lift-equipped. We are opening bids on Thursday for another 15 buses. 10 of those buses will be lift-equipped. We operated what is known as a coordinated service; that is, using our resources in our community-we have 170,000 people—the fixed-route buses stay in the urban area. The paratransit does some urban work, but mainly goes to the rural areas.