The Metro Board, taking advantage of the Reagan administration's efforts to reduce regulatory costs, shifted gears yesterday and voted to order 30 new buses without wheelchair lifts. The move will save about $600,000, which will probably go toward purchase of two more buses.
Metro General Manager Richard S. Page said the decision would not compromise the transit system's commitment to accomodate handicapped and elderly passengers.
The vote came two weeks after the board had reluctantly voted to include the controversial lifts in the buses, in order to stay within federal regulations then in force requiring the machines in all new buses purchased by federally assisted transit systems. The lifts would have cost about $19,500 each.
But Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation loosened its rules regarding the handicapped, making them far less specific. Transit systems getting federal aid now face a general requirement to make "special efforts" to accomodate handicapped passengers. Local planners are free to a certain extent to devise their own programs.
With that in mind, the board voted to cancel the lifts for the 60-foot, articulated (dual-sectioned) buses thast are to be delivered in 1983 for service in the District.
Operating on about 25 routes, 151 Metrobuses, or about 10 percent of the peak-hour fleet, are already equipped with lifts. Those lifts were ordered in the mid-'70s at a cost of about $1 million, with further sums spent since then to maintain them and train drivers in their use.
The new regulations also drop the requirement that 50 percent of a transit system's peak-hour fleet have lifts by 1989. With this inducement gone, there is a serious possibility that Metro's collection of lifts will never grow beyond its current size, according to General Manager Page.
Metro and other transit systems have long criticized lifts as costly, prone to breakdowns and used too frequently to be worthwhile. Metro's studies show that in an average week, only 40 trips involve the use of a lift.
As alternative to widespread installation of the machines, Metro has studied providing special door-to-door service or allowing handicapped passengers to arrange in advance by telephone for lift-equipped buses to be on a particular route when they will be traveling.
Earlier, Metro had approved plans to begin such a telephone service in January next year. However, that program was devised to satisfy federal week and its future now stands in question.
Yesterday, the chairwoman of Metro's Advisory Committee on the Elderly and Handicapped, Marsha Williams, said she believed the cancellation of the lifts was a purely financial decision. "I don't have the feeling that it means the end of Metro's accomadation" of the disabled, she said.
In other action, the board voted to mark the Gallery Place subway station's H Street entrance, located in the Chinatown section, with a Chinese-language sign. Inside the station itself, Chinese and English-language signs saying "Chinatown" are to be placed on pylons to direct passengers toward the H Street accessway.
The decision marks the first time that foreign-language signs have been authorized for the subway system.The motion was introduced by board member the Rev. Jerry Moore, who said it would help the District government's efforts to promote Chinatown as a community.