The Transportation Department yesterday proposed to replace and, in a few respects, strengthen its 2-year-old interim rules for giving disabled people access to public transportation in urban areas.
The proposals, which parallel the earlier rules in many instances, give local transit systems the option of equipping half their buses with lifts, providing a special paratransit system for the handicapped or providing a combination of the two.
The paratransit system could not restrict its service--some have given higher priorities to work and medical trips--and could not charge more than the comparable service available to non-disabled commuters.
In addition, the proposals would limit the expenditures that systems would have to make on behalf of the disabled. They would have to spend no more than 7 percent of their federal aid providing services for the disabled or 3 percent of their annual operating budget, as averaged over three years.
Reaction among major transit system operators, like the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority, was favorable, since the proposals' major requirements differed so little from the requirements of the existing rule.
According to Ed Perfall, a spokesman for the New York authority, about 1,500 of the city's 4,000 buses are equippped with wheelchair lifts--all new since 1980. The MTA, however, has consistently fought state and federal attempts to require that any of the system's 480 subway stations be made accessible when unrelated modernization efforts are under way.
Perfall said he was told that the DOT proposal required nothing that the MTA was not already on its way to providing.
New York's century-old network of subway lines is the prime example of the difficulty and expense of mandating accessibility in public transit. Washington's Metro subway system, constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, is designed to be accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Despite the assertion of Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole that "our proposal demonstrates a strong federal commitment to assure access to public mass transit systems to all citizens," disability groups were lukewarm at best.
Arlene Battis, speaking for the Paralyzed Veterans of America, said her group is "very disappointed . . . . Even though they've outlined service criteria for the paratransit systems , if the transit authorities run out of money, they could start cutting corners."
She pointed out an April, 1982, GAO study that showed that 61 percent of paratransist systems surveyed in large, moderate and small cities occasionally denied service when it was requested and many required a day's notice to guarantee service.
Battis added, "The regulations do not address subway accessibility. and that is a very big problem . . . . How could a paratransit system compete with subway transportation, particularly in Manhattan?"
Transportation's proposals were published for comment in yesterday's Federal Register. Comments are due by Nov. 7.