Good Morning. I am Nancy Smith, the Director of Project ACTION, a federally-funded project administered by the National Easter Seal Society that promotes transportation accessibility for people with disabilities and helps transit operators comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). I am pleased to have the opportunity to testify this morning, as the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee focuses on the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA).
This committee has played a vital role in promoting transit accessibility. The provisions authored in the 1991 ISTEA to ensure the effective implementation of the ADA transportation provisions have been extremely important over the last six years. As the US Senate considers the future of ISTEA, it is vitally important that you continue to address the critical issue of transportation accessibility for people with disabilities and to support the progress that transit providers are making toward implementing the ADA. This morning I will share my perspectives on both the successes of recent years and the many challenges that lie ahead to ensure mobility for all Americans, including the 25 million transit dependent people with disabilities.
Access to transportation is often the critical factor in obtaining employment for the nation's 25 million transit dependent people with disabilities. Nearly 65% of people with disabilities in America are unemployed. The overwhelming majority of these individuals want to work and cite lack of accessible transportation as a primary barrier to entering the workforce. Access to transportation is not only a critical component in transitioning people with disabilities from dependency on federal programs to being independent taxpayers, it is also an important civil right. The fight by minorities to guarantee equal access to public transportation has been one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement in American history. In 1954, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama she set in motion a series of events the greatly enhanced the rights of African Americans. Yet, in the late 1970's and early 1980's, disabled Americans were unable to use existing main line public transportation systems.
Disability advocates led numerous street demonstrations and in many cities chained themselves to buses to protest lack of access to fixed route transportation. These tactics were successful in bringing national attention to accessibility issues. Yet, in that contentious atmosphere, disability advocates and transit officials came to view each other as adversaries. Both groups met in courtrooms or during angry protests at transit conventions. Before the ADA was enacted, federal regulations governing accessibility were confusing and inconsistent and hence often challenged in court. Scarce financial resources were spent launching and defending against lawsuits rather than promoting accessibility.
The National Easter Seal Society and other key stakeholders realized that there must be a better way to achieve transit accessibility. Representatives from Easter Seals, the American Public Transit Association (APTA), and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) met with members of Congress to propose a better approach. Congress agreed that implementing a project rooted in finding cooperative solutions to transit accessibility concerns made sense. At the urging of both disability and transit organizations Congress created Project ACTION (Accessible Community Transportation in Our Nation) in 1987. The inception of Project ACTION preceded both the ADA and ISTEA. The Project's stated purpose was to promote transportation accessibility and to enhance cooperation between transit providers and the disability community.
In creating Project ACTION, Congress expressed five priorities:
To accomplish these goals Congress funded Project ACTION through a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration. The Project is administered by the National Easter Seal Society in Washington, DC. The mission of the National Easter Seal Society is to promote equality, dignity and independence for people with disabilities. Easter Seals was founded in 1919 in Ohio and now has affiliates in all 50 states serving more than 1,000,000 people with disabilities annually.
Significant progress has been made in promoting transportation accessibility since the passage of ADA in 1990. Nationwide bus fleet accessibility has grown. Currently 65% of fixed route buses are accessible and it is predicted that 100% of fixed route buses will be accessible by the year 2000. Paratransit services, designed for those who cannot use fixed route, have improved and are being run far more efficiently. The disability and transit communities have learned how to work together to promote accessible transportation. Transit systems have committees now that are composed of people with disabilities and senior citizens. These committees help transit providers make decisions and design systems of public transportation that are increasingly accessible.
Project ACTION is proud to have played a significant role in promoting accessibility through our work with the Department of Transportation and many others similarly dedicated to working cooperatively to make the ADA a reality. Perhaps the best recent example of this cooperation was demonstrated at the two national training conferences, titled "From Accessibility to Mobility" that Project ACTION sponsored in Pittsburgh and Denver in June of 1997. These events utilized a faculty composed of transit staff and consultants, as well as people representing a broad spectrum of the disability community. Over 750 transit operations personnel received 2 and « days of training in solutions to transit accessibility problems.
Many times during critical junctures in ADA implementation, Project ACTION has been able to bring the major stakeholders together to resolve issues collaboratively, thereby preventing either litigation or the need for legislative action. In June 1994, Project ACTION sponsored the First National Policy Conference on ADA Implementation in Transportation. The conference presented the results of the Project ACTION local demonstration projects, brought together the key decision makers concerned with transit accessibility to discuss current and emerging policy issues in ADA implementation in transportation, and helped to develop solutions and recommendations to ease ADA implementation and improve access to transportation for people with disabilities.
At the request of FTA Administrator Gordon Linton, Project ACTION sponsored two Paratransit Forums in 1995. These forums bought together many of the experts in the field of accessible transportation to define the nature of the problems facing the transit industry with regard to the ADA service called complementary paratransit. The resulting report provided both a description of the problems and some suggested strategies for solving them. The information generated from those events has provided a framework for many of the activities pursued by Project ACTION in the last two years.
Attachments to this testimony provide a complete summary of Project ACTION's accomplishments to date. Project ACTION works diligently to build and maintain strong support among both transit providers and the disability community. Project ACTION works collaboratively with all of the key stakeholders to develop workable solutions to the most critical issues transit providers face as they work to implement the ADA. Continuation of the Project in ISTEA reauthorization will enable Project ACTION to share this valuable information with transit systems nationwide to ensure that they are meeting ADA requirements in the most cost-effective manner.
Congress made a major contribution to improving the lives of people with disabilities by enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Simply stated, the ADA guarantees that people with disabilities have a basic civil right to access public transportation. Since the passage of ADA the demand for Project ACTION assistance has grown exponentially. The Project is the nation's number one resource for information on all facets of surface transportation accessibility. The Project has developed an impressive and diverse resource center of informational materials for a wide variety of transit and disability community audiences on the nature and progress of ADA implementation. Our library includes training curriculum for transit providers and passengers; information on working with particular groups of passengers, like those who have vision impairments, have Alzheimer's disease, have developmental disabilities; data on innovations in the field such as the use of global information systems (GIS), functional assessment tools, and the use of pagers to reduce the number of paratransit "no-shows." The Project has recently funded a research project in Boston, Massachusetts to develop guidelines for ferries and other forms of water transportation. Ferry ridership has doubled in the last ten years as an increasing number of commuters chose ferry transportation as their preferred mode of travel yet there is little information on the best methods and products to use to make these vessels accessible.
The basic strength of Project ACTION's work has been its ability to link with transit and disability communities to create solutions to accessibility problems. The first iteration of these solutions were local demonstration grants which provided opportunities for communities to explore issues and choose better options toward making their transit systems accessible under ADA. Those grants provided the Project with many of the written and video items it currently disseminates. Recently, Project ACTION has made a significant change toward creating solutions which are nationally replicable. The Technical Assistance Development grants provide opportunities for organizations to build concrete, usable solutions to the remaining tough accessibility issues confronting the transit industry.
Project ACTION currently disseminates over 500 items information each month. Project ACTION assistance is not theoretical or abstract, it is based on what works. For example, Project ACTION has a project in New York state called "Students On-Line" which uses computer technology to help acquaint students with the use of public transportation. This help is critical to the students' ability to successfully transition to adult life.
Project ACTION has initiated a consumer education campaign to ensure that people with disabilities are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the ADA and have sufficient information to be comfortable using their own community's public buses. Campaigns in twenty-six sites have been completed, including in all five boroughs of New York; Tucson, Arizona; Moorhead, Minnesota; Boulder, Colorado, and Baltimore, Maryland. Future Project ACTION trainings will be held in Washington, DC; and Blacksburg, Virginia. These are just a few examples of the ground breaking research, demonstration projects and technical assistance activities designed to help transit providers comply with the ADA.
In enacting ISTEA in 1991, Congress recognized Project ACTION's important contribution by authorizing $2.0 million per year from the FTA national program research budget for Project ACTION-type activities, and strongly endorsing the efforts of Project ACTION in the legislative history. ISTEA provides:
Committee report language indicated that the Committee was aware that Project ACTION, administered by the National Easter Seal Society, had existed for three years prior to ISTEA and that the Project should serve as a model for the ADA initiative. And indeed it has. Each year under ISTEA, Easter Seals has received the fully authorized amount of $2.0 million from House and Senate appropriators to support Project ACTION and to implement the plan outlined in ISTEA. Just last week, the Senate Transportation Appropriations subcommittee voted to approve $2.0 million for Project ACTION in FY 98.
In seeking to accomplish the goals set by Congress, Project ACTION has worked closely with virtually all of the stakeholders involved in this area of concern. Project ACTION's National Steering Committee is composed equally of members of the transportation provider community, as well as disability-related organizations. Easter Seals and Project ACTION enjoy a very productive relationship with FTA Administrator Gordon Linton.
Progress achieved through Project ACTION activities has been mutually beneficial for transit providers and the disability community. However, as transit providers approach the seventh anniversary of the ADA enactment this month, serious concerns have emerged. Chief among these are the difficulties of ensuring ADA compliance relative to costs. Paratransit is expensive and resources are limited. As you know, the ADA requires that a paratransit system-essentially demand responsive vans-be maintained for those individuals who are not capable of using fixed route transit service. Fares charged for paratransit may not be more than double the fixed route fare, although actual costs usually far exceed that cost. Operating costs for paratransit increase, even as federal operating assistance is being cutback. Fixed route ridership by people with disabilities is low, while paratransit demand is escalating. Determining ADA paratransit eligibility is complex and politically sensitive. )While problems exist with respect to costs, overall the paratransit initiative under ADA has gone well. Most systems are either in or approaching compliance, with few waiver requests to FTA.
Project ACTION has played an important role in facilitating the paratransit implementation effort. In addition to our videos, resource manuals and other regular efforts to assist transit operators, Project ACTION responded to the request of FTA Administrator Linton and convened the two national "Paratransit Forums" mentioned earlier. The Project has also worked to help transition riders from paratransit to fixed route. In New York city, Project ACTION sponsored an innovative project to train young adults with disabilities to use fixed route transit. The project staff selected high school seniors and new graduates with a range of disabilities in the Borough of Queens, New York and provided them with training on how to use the accessible bus and subway services. The training involved parents, guardians and transit officials. The model was designed with the intention of increasing the independence of people with disabilities and reducing the dependency on existing paratransit services. The Project has discovered that with training current paratransit users can successfully transit to fixed route, greatly increasing their independence and providing tremendous cost savings to the transit system.
The scope of the work yet to be done is substantial. The demand for Project ACTION expertise is escalating. It is vitally important to maintain the flow of valuable training, technical assistance, and information dissemination to transit providers, people with disabilities, public officials, and other community leaders nationwide. National Easter Seal Society's government relations professionals have been and will continue to work with Committee members and staff to request that the ISTEA provision that supports Project ACTION be retained. To make sure that the Project can meet the demand for its materials and resources, Easter Seals is requesting an annual authorization of $3.0 million per year and suggesting enhanced language in the bill or report that recognizes the vital role that Project ACTION has, and hopes to continue to play, in promoting transportation accessibility into the 21st century.
Thank you for your time and attention. I would be pleased to address any questions you
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