Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing companies may be injecting new competition into municipal taxi systems, but thus far, their plans for making their services accessible are failing to alleviate concerns from disability rights groups.
“They seem to think they can snap their fingers and it will be very easy” to procure wheelchair-accessible vehicles, said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, in a San Francisco Chronicle feature published February 18. “They’re doing some of the easier things, such as nondiscrimination statements and engaging some of the existing smartphone accessibility features.”
Ride-sharing companies allow people to request taxis from their mobile devices. Typically, these companies provide paid rides from freelance drivers. While these services provide new transportation options for consumers, they have also impacted the profits of traditional taxi drivers, most of whom pay high fees to municipalities to provide services.
California decided in September 2013 to begin regulating these companies. As part of the regulations, five companies – Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Instant Cab and Wingz – must provide annual reports on how they are making their services more accessible for people with disabilities.
According to documents obtained by the Chronicle, some of the companies have said they will begin providing financial incentives to drivers who use wheelchair accessible vehicles.
In San Francisco, however, where ride-sharing has become particularly popular, only 100 of the city’s 1,885 taxis are currently wheelchair accessible.
As disability rights groups see it, this shortfall may be exacerbated if pressure is not kept on the ride-sharing companies.
“The plans are all quite tentative and don’t address the fundamental challenge, which is ensuring enough accessible vehicles to make this transportation system at least minimally accessible for people with mobility disabilities,” Larry Paradis, executive director of Disability Rights Advocates, told the Chronicle.