Lawsuit Claims Uber Doesn’t Accommodate Wheelchair Users

Two disability rights organizations and three disabled people are suing Uber for alleged discrimination, saying the company’s wheelchair-accessible service is rarely, if ever, available.

The latest challenge to Uber over access for the disabled comes from the company’s own back yard. The plaintiffs in the suit are based in San Francisco and nearby Alameda County, across the bay. They’re represented by Disability Rights Advocates, a national nonprofit organization.

The would-be class-action suit alleges that Uber advertises a wheelchair-accessible service, UberWAV, but riders find they can barely get a ride with it. The plaintiffs say their tests showed UberWAV was unavailable 80% of the time in San Francisco and was never available in Alameda County. They tested it 60 times in San Francisco and 120 times in Alameda County. Riders in wheelchairs wait an average of five times longer than other customer for a ride, and sometimes as much as 14 times longer, according to DRA.

“Uber purports to offer access to wheelchair accessible vehicles to users in the Bay Area. However, although the app includes an UberWAV button, the reality is that this button is a sham. UberWAV does not provide effective service to people who need UberWAVs,” the complaint claims.

Also, customers in wheelchairs can’t use any other Uber services, such as UberPool, UberSUV, or the high-end UberBlack and UberSelect, according to the lawsuit.

Uber has proved it can provide better service to the disabled with expanded offerings in London, other UK cities and Philadelphia, the plaintiffs claim. Their suit, filed on Tuesday, February 27, in Alameda County Superior Court, doesn’t ask for monetary damages but asks the court to force Uber to give disabled people equal access.

In a statement by email, Uber said it’s always working to expand access.

“We take this issue seriously, and are continuously exploring ways to facilitate mobility and freedom via the Uber App for all riders, including riders who use motorized wheelchairs,” according to Uber’s statement.

On-demand ride services such as Uber could be a boon to people who have difficulty taking buses and trains and getting to and from transit stops. With so many individual cars operating around the clock, they may allow for more spontaneous trips than travelers could take with traditional paratransit or dial-a-ride services.

Some cities, such as Santa Monica, Calif., have contracted with private ride-hail companies to replace overburdened or inconvenient city services. Others, including New York City, have started their own services that emulate the private offerings.

But this isn’t the first time Uber has been accused of not doing enough for people with disabilities.

Last July, DRA represented disability rights groups in New York City that sued Uber alleging unfair treatment by the company there. Similar suits have been filed in Chicago and Washington, DC. Also last year, as part of a settlement with the National Federation of the Blind, the company updated its policy on service animals and forcing drivers to acknowledge they’re required to accept the animals on rides.

Traditional taxi companies aren’t immune to such charges. In 2013, New York’s taxi commission agreed to make half of the city’s cabs wheelchair-accessible by 2020 to settle a class-action suit.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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