ABOUT US | SUBSCRIBE | CURRENT ISSUE | OUR LAST ISSUE | LINKS | E-MAIL EDITOR | HOME
Disability Rights Nation
by Leye Jeannette Chrzanowski
© Copyright 1998 The Disability News Service, Inc.
WASHINGTON - Almost eight years after the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)was signed and five years after the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an advance notice of proposed rule making (ANPRM) concerning over-the-road buses (OTRBs), DOT finally released its proposed rules on March 20. OTRBs are characterized by an elevated passenger deck located over the baggage compartment. DOT will accept public comment on the proposed rule for a period of 60 days. A final rule is expected out this fall.
The proposed rule requires all new buses purchased for fixed-route services, including regularly scheduled inter-city, regional and local service buses, to be accessible beginning in 2000.
Fixed route carriers with $5 million or more in annual revenue must ensure that half of their fleet is accessible by 2006 and that the remainder is accessible by 2012. Until all buses are accessible, carriers must provide interim service that would make accessible buses available with 48-hour advance notice. The proposed rules do not require existing buses to be retrofitted.
Charter buses and tour companies, which typically schedule their service well in advance, must make ten percent of their fleet accessible by 2002. By that same date, all charter and tour operators must make accessible service available with 48-hour advance notice.
Since 1993, representatives of DOT have met with officials from the bus industry and members of the disability community to discuss proposed OTRB rules. Over the years, activists in the disability community have pushed for requiring all new OTRBs to be accessible. In contrast, the bus industry, citing the high cost of purchasing and operating accessible vehicles as well as its projections for minimal demand for accessible service, had proposed less expensive, conservative methods of providing accessible OTRB service.
"I think [DOT rules] are very strong and it is very positive that all buses - like Greyhound - are going to have lifts," says Stephanie Thomas of ADAPT. "It's exciting that there are target dates. We're not going to be dead and in our graves before these buses are accessible - at least there is [some kind] of a light at the end of the tunnel."
Greyhound has a different opinion of the proposed rules. "We're disappointed that the announcement leaves no room for the pool concept, which we and the American Bus Association have advocated," said spokespserson Katherine Williams. "Instead of putting a lift on every bus in our fleet, we proposed a pool of buses of ten or 25 percent of our fleet to be lift-equipped, and [promised to] put [a lift-equipped bus] wherever it is needed in our system with 48-hour notice. [DOT -proposed rules] require an excessive method of providing service for one-tenth of one percent of our riders," says Williams. "The Department of Transportation has found that on-call, fixed-route service with advance notice did not provide disabled passengers with the same opportunities as people without disabilities.
"It's really obvious by the way Greyhound acted [during the five-year] interim time, that they really have no interest in serving people with disabilities - especially people who need lifts," says Thomas. "They do everything to get out of it, and so there is no reason to believe that they would do something better if they had the pool system they are proposing."
DOT estimates the net cost of implementing the proposed rule would be $19 -25 million per year for the entire bus industry. This figure includes the expected additional revenue generated by the increase in disabled travelers. For inter-city buses, where the average ticket sells for $33, DOT projects the extra cost per passenger to implement the proposed rule to be about 38 cents. The proposed rules also include provisions to help reduce the cost impact for small operators.
Greyhound and DOT disagree on costs "We estimate that a lift on every bus would cost [Greyhound] $8.7 million dollars every year," says Williams. This amount is based on a 12-year period to make all of the company's buses accessible. Greyhound currently has 2,100 buses in operation. Seven have lifts and 20 buses with lifts are on order.
The complete text of the proposed rule is available in Adobe Acrobat file format at http://www.dot.gov/affairs/otrb.pdf. (Free Adobe Reader software can be downloaded; the site gives instructions.). Comments on the proposed rule are due before May 19 and should be sent, preferably in triplicate, to Docket Clerk, Docket No. OST-1998-3648; Notice 98-15, Depart-ment of Transportation, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh Street S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590. (To receive acknowledgment of receipt, include a stamped, self-addressed postcard with your comments.)
The ink had barely dried on draft rules issued March 20 by the Dept. of Transportation finally requiring Greyhound and other over-the-road bus companies to equip their fleets with lifts when Rep. Bud Shuster hatched a new scheme to get Greyhound and other over-the-road bus companies exempted entirely from the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As Ragged Edge was going to press, Justice For All reported that Shuster (R.-PA), Chair of the House Transportation Committee, had proposed an amendment be tacked onto the "Building Efficient Surface Transportation and Equity Act" (BESTEA: HR 2400) exempting the bus companies from the ADA altogether. . Finally, 8 years after the ADA became law, rules now propose to require lifts on any over-the-road bus purchased after 2000 - there's no requirement that current buses be retrofitted with lifts. By 2006, say the rules, half the fleet must be accessible, with total fleet accessibility slated for 2012. "Some in the bus industry oppose full and equal access for individuals with disabilities and now propose to amend the ADA to avoid having to purchase lift-equipped buses," said JFA.
Although the 1990 law "required Greyhound to serve disabled passengers, it did not require Greyhound to equip their buses with lifts until 1996," said ADAPT in a statement. "However, in 1996 Greyhound was clever enough to get an addition to the Federal Highway Act which in effect amended the ADA to say that over-the-road bus companies would not have to purchase lift-equipped buses until at least 2 years" after DOT rules were issued. "Greyhound, in the meantime, planned to replace its entire fleet with non-lift-equipped buses," said ADAPT.
Last August ADAPT members held protests against Greyhound in a number of cities; in the fall, when rules had still not been issued, ADAPT took over DOT headquarters in Washington, D.C. "to demonstrate to DOT Sec. Slater just how serious this is." The outcome was a written agreement committing DOT to issue the rules.
Abby supports MiCasa
Gail Kear, Executive Director of the Center for Independent Living in Bloomington, Ill., wrote to Dear Abby about MiCasa. In newspapers nationwide on March 2, Abby printed Kear's letter. After explaining that MiCasa would . Kear wrote, "This bill will benefit everyone who is disabled or will ever have a disability or be old. To secure the right to choose, call or write your representatives in Congress and urge them to co-sponsor and vote for this important bill."
Abby replied, "the MiCasa bill appears to be the answer to countless prayers."
"One of the best things that could have ever happened," said an activist. "Just writing that letter." That's all it took - one letter, and Abby's interest, of course. Sometimes we get lucky.
MiCasa hearings get little news; field hearings next.
A short Associated Press story was the sole news item on the March 12 hearings of the House Commerce Committee's Health and Environment Subcommittee on the Medicaid Community Attendant Services Act, or MiCasa. Efforts by activists to have C-Span televise the hearings failed. . The AP story framed the hearing as Congress "opening a new debate about further expanding the rights of disabled people" and mentioned concerns over "costs."
Despite testimony by officials from Kansas and Oregon (states which now use Medicaid funds for in-home services) citing cost savings, committee members worry that costs would skyrocket as people "come out of the woodwork" to request the service. Some activists said they were frustrated that the Clinton Administration was "not particularly supportive of MiCasa" despite this testimony.
The AP reported on the recent controversial assessment by the Congressional Budget Office which projected that MiCasa "could cost between $10 billion and $20 billion a year, depending on how many people use the benefit and other factors."
"That CBO thing hangs there like an albatross," said ADAPT organizer Bob Kafka, who has been frustrated by the report and disputes its findings. It's "a very convenient thing to use" to make the case that there's not enough money, he says.
In the AP story, Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, lectured activists that "it's easy to get support for bills, but harder to get lawmakers to vote to spend the money." ADAPT says over 50 lawmakers have signed onto the bill. "Talk is cheap in Washington,'' Strickland told the AP.
Days before the MiCasa hearing, the Sunday New York Times, ran a a front-page story on problems black families face caring for elderly parents ("Tradition of Care Thrives in Black Families," Mar. 15, Page A1). There was no mention that Congress might be considering a major shift in Medicaid funding to let folks in nursing homes live, rather, at home with paid assistance. New York Times reporter Sara Rimer writes, "[With] the Federal Government considered unlikely to provide help in the form of a comprehensive long-term care program anytime soon, more and more families are expected to find themselves taking care of elderly relatives."
Reporters seem not to know of MiCasa's existence. A number of activists say that Democrats have been "far worse" at understanding and supporting the shift to home-based services than Republicans. That's because Democrats have traditionally supported ACFSME . This union for federal, state and local public employees, including many who work for large state-run institutions, has fought closings of institutions. At the hearings, House Minority Leader Rep. Richard A. Gephart (D. - MO) made at least one remark supportive of keeping at least some institutions open. Since the "healthcare debacle," Democrats don't want to even discuss anything having to do with "long term services," said one activist.
Congressional members at the hearings appeared confused by the long term service issues being discussed. "They don't know how the system is set up, so it is very hard for them to talk about changing it," said Diane Coleman, who attended the hearings. Members of the subcommittee, said those who attended the hearings, seemed concerned about "scandals" that might arise with incorrectly administered procedures. The "venipuncture scandal" in home health "appears to have been an example of the use of a 'skilled' medical service being used to justify the provision of 'personal care' services," said one activist. "What advocates would say is that a medical services should not be needed to justify personal assistance -that's the whole point."
What's next? Field hearings around the country, says Kafka. "We want to build the grassroots," he says. Even though "anything having to do with Medicaid is totally off the political agenda," he says, the effort to get the independent living movement behind MiCasa is having an effect at the state level. Already, he says, more funds for attendant services projects are starting to appear, whether connected to Medicaid or other funds. "We're going to continue to 'bubble it up' from the local level, says Kafka. "It's what we do best."
For more information, go to ADAPT's website.
Source: Health Care Financing Administration.
ABOUT US | SUBSCRIBE | CURRENT ISSUE | OUR LAST ISSUE | LINKS | E-MAIL EDITOR | HOME
© Copyright 1998 The Ragged Edge
This Website produced by Cliffwood Organic Works