Its not often that a legal question
involving the travel industry lands on the doorstep of the Supreme
Court, so it is worth taking note when it happens, particularly
when the case has global implications.
As weve reported in
the last two weeks, the Supreme Court is reviewing the question of
whether foreign-flagged cruise ships are covered by the Americans
with Disabilities Act. As often happens, the question can be stated
simply, but its not a simple question.
lawyers in the case assert that Congress never said the law should
apply to ships that operate under foreign flags. Disability
advocates claim that the restaurants, lounges and others passenger
facilities of a ship in U.S. waters are obviously places of public
accommodation as defined by the law.
And the debate
doesnt end there. If the Supreme Court rules that the law does
apply, government and industry officials would have to determine
how to apply it in the maritime arena, which is governed by
international treaties that frown upon the extraterritorial
application of national laws on the high seas.
And then theres the
practical problem of making the law work in the real world of
bulkheads, fire doors, watertight hatches, lifeboats, tenders and
Some years ago in
this space, in April 2001 to be exact, we noted that the cruise
industry needed clear and uniform accessibility guidelines. At the
time, the government agency that deals with architectural barriers
and related matters, the Access Board, had received a report from
an industry committee that was helping to develop accessibility
standards for ships, ferries, excursion boats and other
operating foreign-flagged ships were involved in that effort, along
with representatives of various disabled groups, the Coast Guard,
port officials, ASTA, the National Tour Association and
Four years after
receiving this report, the Access Board has yet to issue a
proposal, though it now claims that it is days away from doing so.
We believe this consultative process should continue and we hope it
picks up some much needed speed, but most of all we hope that the
Supreme Court, whichever way it rules, doesnt render all that work
irrelevant and moot.
Our Page 1 feature story in the Oct. 18
issue takes another look at the state of high-speed rail
development in the U.S. Unfortunately, our country isnt making much
progress on this front.
Weve been saying
for years that the federal government has done far too little to
make this transportation option a reality for the U.S. traveling
public, and we will take this opportunity to repeat that
And against the
backdrop of $50-per-barrel crude oil, we would remind our
policymakers that unlike jet planes and SUVs, high-speed,
electrified rail lines do not require petroleum. Their electrical
power can be generated in all manner of ways -- hydro, nuclear,
coal, wind, wave, gerbils, whatever.