In cities across America, taxicab fleets are encountering increased regulation to provide wheelchair and handicap accessible cabs to riders who require them. However, ride-hailing services like Uber are currently not covered under these types of rules.
Disability rights advocates have taken to filing lawsuits against ride-hailing apps across the country, claiming the companies deny access to services that are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While the ADA requires transportation companies to provide services accessible to people with disabilities, Uber has been contending that it is rather a technology company, and therefore not required to comply.
In Washington D.C., Uber is at least seeking to negotiate with existing taxicab companies to access their wheelchair-accessible vans when needed. There’s just one problem: the cab companies are not interested in establishing a partnership with one of their top competitors. So in a city with a population over 658,000 in the city proper alone, there are only 100 wheelchair accessible vans registered through city cab companies. Uber and its competitors have zero. Furthermore, citywide statistics estimate close to 20% of the population has a disability and the city welcomes an average of 17.9 million tourists each year. While admittedly very unscientific, these numbers could imply that the likelihood of being a wheelchair user and seeking a taxicab could be cumbersome, frustrating, or nearly impossible in the District.
Elsewhere throughout the country, Uber is also hoping to move forward with taxicab partnerships in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Diego using existing companies’ wheelchair accessible vehicles as their own. But when some companies invest thousands on these vehicles, why can’t Uber just do the same? Some advocates are claiming that these partnerships won’t solve the problem of not enough wheelchair accessible vans on the road. The taxicab industry is doing its part in big cities to provide service that is on par with the nearly 3.3 million American requiring a wheelchair; this doesn’t include those who require walking assistance like a cane or walker.
So what are some solutions to the problem? The Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a statement in February that the ADA does apply to Uber and its competitors with regard to a specific case in California. So as Uber and others face these litigations, it’s possible the DOJ will continue to reach similar decisions. Additionally, local legislators are being encouraged to offer grants that would subsidize the purchase of wheelchair accessible vehicles to these ride-hailing companies or individual drivers. Back in Washington D.C. Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are required to submit plans by January 1, 2016, on their own efforts to increase accessibility. At this point, the companies would have years to develop and adapt. It’s time to start rolling forward.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Parecki, Creative Commons