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Wheelchair users sue Uber

Company announces health transport program days later

A wheelchair accessible taxi on display in Tokyo.
A wheelchair accessible taxi on display in Tokyo.
Photo via na0905/Wikicommons

Last week, the Berkeley-based non-profit Disability Rights Advocates [DRA] sued Uber in Alameda County Superior Court, alleging that the company doesn’t provide adequate service for customers in wheelchairs, calling the company’s attempts at providing fully accessible vehicles “a sham.”

The San Francisco Examiner notes that a few days after this suit, Uber and competitor Lyft announced new programs to help doctors and patients get people to and from hospitals and other treatment centers; however, “neither company addressed wheelchair-accessible vehicles” specifically.

The DRA’s class-action complaint on behalf of two Alameda County women and one San Francisco woman, who rely on wheelchairs, alleges that the lack of sufficient wheelchair service for Uber cars effectively locks them and other wheelchair users out of the service:

It appears that the future of on-demand transportation belongs to Uber and that, unless forced to do so by this Court, Uber will exclude disabled individuals from that future. As detailed below, Uber’s acts and practices deny individuals who need wheelchair accessible vehicles equal access to the service it provides, and prevent them from obtaining the benefits of its service.

Strictly speaking, Uber operates a service specifically for wheelchair users, dubbed the Uber Wheelchair Accessible Van program [UberWAV].

But the suit calls this option “a sham,” complaining that the defendants can almost never secure a WAV when they need one:

When an UberWAV is available, the wait times for these vehicles are on average five times longer than for non-wheelchair accessible UberX. [...] Plaintiffs tested a number of central locations around the Bay Area daily between November 2017 and January 2018. In Alameda County, not a single wheelchair accessible Uber was available during a total of 120 tests. In San Francisco, over 60 tests, a wheelchair accessible Uber was completely unavailable almost five times out of six.

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DRA previously sued Uber in the state of New York over the same issue, and similar suits are ongoing in other cities.

Nobody at Uber was immediately available for comment. The ride-hailing company has also declined to comment on the suit to other media outlets. Via a press release, DRA says that “plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, but instead seek to achieve equal access to Uber for themselves and the class.”

The Verge calls the new Uber Health program\ “a digital tool meant to book rides for patients who need assistance getting to and from their appointments.”

While that would reasonably include many people who rely on wheelchairs, scooters, and other mobility devices, specifics about such accommodations are not yet available.