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.

Cruise industry 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 what-have-you.

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 vessels.

Cruise lines 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 others.

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.

Broken record

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 complaint.

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.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI