New York City disability advocates are still frustrated with the ridesharing service Uber’s lack of wheelchair accessibility more than a year after the introduction of UberWAV, which is designed to dispatch wheelchair accessible vehicles upon request. The initiative, however, only services the outer boroughs and does not increase the number of accessible vehicles on the road.
Morever, the driver who answers the WAV ride request will not be Uber-affiliated. Rather, the Uber app summons an accessible green boro taxi for the job. Twenty percent of that fleet is wheelchair accessible. Since UberWAV directs wheelchair-bound users to boro taxis, it is only available to passengers in the outer boroughs, and above West 110th and East 96th Streets in Manhattan. These taxis are not permitted to pick up passengers at the three major airports, either.
“The way that they satisfy requirements can be construed as technically adequate, but it’s certainly not optimal,” said Allan Fromberg, TLC Deputy Commissioner for Public Affairs, of UberWAV. Fromberg said that street hail livery cab dispatchers are allowed to have agreements with other bases to send accessible vehicles. That is the foundation of UberWAV’s operation.
A vocal number of passengers and advocacy groups are upset with the service, including Dustin Jones, a member of the Disabled in Action advocacy group. According to Jones, Disabled in Action has recently focused its efforts on improving Uber’s lack of accessibility, which Jones describes as “borderline illegal.”
“What they’re doing is they’re calling themselves accessible to everybody, and they are not,” said Jones. “I would
have to sit there and ride in that green or yellow cab and pay meter fare. That’s not acceptable and that’s not Uber.”
Uber’s lack of options for handicapped passengers not only upsets Jones from a disability rights standpoint, but on a personal level as well.
“If I’m going on a date, I don’t want to ride in a cab, you know? I want to ride in a nice luxury vehicle or something nice,” said Jones. “I have a friend of mine who works for Uber in Connecticut, and she drives a red Ford Edge – that’s a pretty nice car. Why is it that someone with a disability can’t experience something like that?”
Uber drivers operate their privately owned cars, and the company does not require any percentage of its drivers to operate wheelchair accessible vehicles. Given that accessible vehicles are more expensive to purchase and maintain than standard models, drivers have little incentive to purchase one. For example, the wheelchair-accessible version of NYC’s newly introduced standard taxicab, the Nissan NV200, is $14,000 more expensive than the basic version.
Roger Soto, who has worked as an Uber driver for the past two and half years, said cost is one of the reasons why Uber drivers are not purchasing and driving accessible vehicles. In addition, should the accessibility equipment damage the vehicle, the cost must be covered by the driver.
“You can have your own car, make your own time to work,” said Soto. “But you have more expenses.”
The United Spinal Association, along with the Taxis for All Campaign and other disability advocacy groups, staged a “roll-in” protest outside of Uber’s lower Manhattan headquarters in July. The protestors called for Uber to better service wheelchair users, while simultaneously urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to pass legislation mandating that ridesharing services serve handicapped passengers.
“Uber would like nothing more than to say, ‘We’ll get you an accessible green one, we’ll get you an accessible yellow one,’ have that be the extent of their responsibility,” said Jim Weisman, President and CEO of The United Spinal Association. “At the same time, they’re trying to put out of business the yellows and the greens, and they’re doing a good job of it.”
Weisman expressed frustration at Uber for attempting to overtake the NYC taxi industry, without promising service or even a plan for disabled passengers.
“I don’t care who wins this war in the transportation industry, as long as people with disabilities are included in the solution,” said Weisman. “How could you want to be the transportation system of tomorrow, and not include people with disabilities? There’s nothing progressive about that.”