Uber Has Shortage Of Accessible Vehicles, Lawsuit Claims
SAN FRANCISCO — When you request an Uber ride, you can swipe through options such as UberX, Pool, Black, SUV and WAV, which stands for “wheelchair accessible vehicle.”
But according to a lawsuit filed this week that is seeking class-action status, the wheelchair-accessible vehicles are rarely if ever available in San Francisco and Alameda counties. “Although the app includes an UberWAV button, the reality is that this button is a sham,” the lawsuit said. Even when there are vehicles, customers must wait much longer for them than for other types of Uber rides, it says.
“Uber is required by law to provide full and equal access to its services to all people regardless of whether or not they have a disability,” said Melissa Riess, staff attorney at Berkeley’s Disability Rights Advocates, which filed the suit in Alameda County Superior Court. “This would be a real life-changer for people with mobility disabilities. Having an option to take them door to door on demand would give them a huge amount of flexibility and independence.”
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An Uber spokesman said in an email: “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.”
“It is discriminatory,” said one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, Judith Smith, founder and artistic director emerita of Oakland’s Axis Dance Company, which brings together dancers with and without physical disabilities. “For those of us who use power wheelchairs and cannot transfer into a vehicle, it means we are not able to have the same access to Uber. I would love to have the ease of opening my phone and knowing I would have a ride show up.”
“We are deeply disappointed in Uber’s continued resistance to following the laws that keep transportation services open to everyone,” said Jessie Lorenz, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco, which is another plaintiff, in a statement.
Riess said her nonprofit made UberWAV requests over six or seven weeks in multiple spots in San Francisco and Alameda County. “We were never able to access a wheelchair-accessible vehicle in Alameda County,” she said. “In San Francisco, 80 percent of the time there was no vehicle available.”
The group found similar issues with Lyft, she said, but is starting its legal action against Uber because it is bigger. Lyft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The suit does not seek monetary damages. Instead, it wants Uber to institute “a comprehensive remedial scheme to address its current exclusion of riders with mobility disabilities,” according to a statement from Disability Rights Advocates. The lawsuit notes that Uber does provide widespread wheelchair-accessible transportation in London and six other cities in the United Kingdom.
“We want them to make this a viable, reliable service that people with mobility disabilities who use wheelchairs can rely on, like all other Uber users,” Riess said.
Uber’s and Lyft’s state regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, requires them to submit annual reports about their disability access, but it keeps those reports sealed. That information is among data that City Attorney Dennis Herrera is seeking with a subpoena. Lyft does provide the records to San Francisco, but they can be seen only by city staff.
Similar suits are pending against Uber in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
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