Are rideshare companies failing to support disabled riders?

What’s Happening

The Justice Department (DOJ) recently filed a legal complaint against Uber (USA v. Uber) for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) over a wait time rule that the DOJ claims overcharges disabled riders. The rule mandates that riders have 2 minutes to get into a car once it arrives, after which time additional fees are charged. The DoJ claims that this rule is discriminatory towards disabled riders that may need more time to enter the vehicle.  In response, Uber’s spokesman said they made a recent change that waives wait-time fees for riders who certify that they are disabled. Disability activists are pushing back, saying that rideshare companies offer little to no support to their disabled riders. Chief executive of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), Maria Town, says that this type of disproportionate economic burden on disabled people is common and needs to stop. In some cities, rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft are seen as competing for revenue and riders against public transit. Disability advocates claim Uber and Lyft, which have a mixed track record of accommodating disabilities among riders, are taking revenue away from public transit, which is required by the ADA to be accessible to all. 

Our Take

There is some ambiguity in the DoJ lawsuit about the point at which the wait time fee clock starts, and Uber’s statements about the lawsuit and about its waiver of wait time fees don’t clarify the issue. In particular, it isn’t clear if the discrimination occurs because the clock starts ticking when the driver arrives but before the driver has established visual or verbal contact with the rider, or if the discrimination occurs because the clock continues to tick after the driver has established visual or verbal contact with the rider. If it is the former, it is worth noting that many paratransit agencies across the country (with an example being the agency in Harris County, Texas) have policies that allow for paratransit drivers to deem riders as “no-shows” if they don’t establish visual or verbal contact within 5 minutes of arrival. The concern may be about the specific grace period (2 minutes for Uber before the fee kicks in, compared to paratransit drivers waiting for 5 minutes before leaving) and not about the use of a time limit at all, but this needs to be clarified. 

Furthermore, this complaint may clarify that ridehailing companies like Uber are required to adhere to the ADA – an issue not yet settled in district courts. One federal district court has determined (Independent Living Center San Francisco et. al. vs. Lyft Inc.) that the ridehailing company Lyft is required to follow the ADA and make “reasonable accommodations” to provide service to people with disabilities. Other district courts were less clear on whether ridehailing companies are technology companies, as they claim, not transportation companies, and therefore not required to adhere to the ADA.  (Equal Rights Center V. Uber Technologies, Inc.; Nat’l Fed’n of the Blind of Cal. v. Uber Techs., Inc) The UC Davis Policy Institute is tracking this issue, as well as California’s regulatory efforts to ensure more wheelchair accessible service, as we work to understand how the government can ensure fairness for people with disabilities.

Media Resources

Russon, BBC News.

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