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Why Can’t Ridesharing Services Like Uber Be More Wheelchair-Friendly?

Why can't Uber and Lyft be more wheelchair-friendly?

Last year, the ride-hailing company Uber announced that they will be working with one of the country’s largest paratransit providers, MV Transit, to increase their wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAV).

But almost a year has gone by and disabled riders barely notice any improvement.

In fact, New York City, Uber’s largest U.S. market, currently only has 554 wheelchair-accessible vehicles out of 118,000 active vehicles.

executive director of the Brooklyn Center for the Disabled Joseph Rappaport claims that Uber’s promises were ‘half-meant’.

“Uber has fiercely opposed accessibility in its services, particularly for people who use wheelchairs,” Joseph said. “They’ve lobbied against proposals, they’ve sued, and they’ve spent millions of dollars to prevent a requirement that they provide accessible service…. The only reason that they’re even doing this is because they face legal action.”

Uber once made headlines after they fought against a proposed measure in Chicago that aimed to make 5 percent of ride-hailing vehicles in the city wheelchair-friendly. The company likewise sued New York after the city rolled out similar regulations for ride-hailing companies last December. In Uber’s defense, they claim that the “staggering” cost of meeting the guidelines could cost the companies over $1 billion.

Since 2014, Uber has faced at least ten lawsuits from accessibility advocates. They claim that the companies provide substandard or nonexistent service to people in wheelchairs. Moreover, wheelchair-users accused Uber of limiting the number of WAVs by choosing to focus their resources elsewhere.

“It is fully within Uber’s power to provide accessible service,” Disability Rights Advocates in California wrote in the lawsuit. “Uber tightly controls all aspects of how drivers and riders use the service, mediating all payments, regulating the types of vehicles drivers use, and offering financial incentives to ensure that there are enough drivers on the road to meet the demand for rides.”

“It’s a basic human right to be able to get around.” – Harriet Lowell

Wheelchair-user Harriet Lowell expressed her frustration over the lack of WAVs among ride-share vehicles.

“I opened Uber in a busy San Francisco neighborhood in the middle of the day. I was quoted a 2-minute wait for a car to take me from my office to my house. For a WAV it was a 12-minute wait. When I opened the Lyft app, it was only a 1-minute wait for a regular Lyft, but there wasn’t even a wheelchair-friendly option available — only extra seats in a Lyft XL,” Ms. Lowell said.

Moreover, she argued that taxis are more likely to be equipped to take wheelchair riders. But since rideshare services pushed these cars out of her community, Uber and Lyft are her only choices.

Another wheelchair-user also shared her Uber horror-story. Valeri Piro claims that getting around her hometown of New York City is a daily challenge. She refuses to use the subway for less than a quarter of the city’s station is wheelchair-friendly. She also states that the city’s Access-A-Ride door-to-door paratransit system is often a “hit or miss” experience.

But still, she continues to face these struggles every day since she practically still can’t use ride-hailing services, due to a dearth of wheelchair-accessible vehicles. “It’s like, well, I don’t have that many options.”

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