Originally posted on my accessibility blog, this quick piece highlights some of the implications the ride sharing craze sweeping the nation will have on disabled travelers, I hope it's both entertaining and informative!
Uber and Lyft— You Can't Dodge This Forever
You may have heard of the ridesharing craze that's sweeping the country. Two of the largest such companies– Lyft and Uber are revolutionizing the transportation business, while challenging traditional taxi cab companies for dominance.
Both Lyft and Uber have similar business models. They have created a mobile app which allows people to request a ride from anywhere they are. This sounds fairly standard these days, but the truly revolutionary part of the system is how the riders actually get to their destination. Rather than being picked up in a cab with a taxi driver, you get picked up in a normal car by Joe– a regular guy who drives for Lyft on the weekends. If you didn't get Joe then maybe you'll be picked up by Mary, a stay at home mom with a minivan who works some nights. When you get to where you're going you pay through the app, and hop out of Joe or Mary's car. You get to your destination for markedly less than a traditional cab, and for a lot less hassle. Great idea, I wish I would have thought of it. Here is the rub– as traditional cab companies go the way of the Dodo, what happens to transportation for people with disabilities?
Traditional taxi services like Yellowcab operate huge fleets that contain at least a few accessible taxis. Already, when I need an accessible ride it typically take 20-30 minutes, even if I'm sitting at a taxi hub. With rideshare companies gaining popularity, (more importantly marketshare) a serious dilemma looms for disabled travelers– how to get where we're trying to go. As taxi companies get less business, the amount of accessible rides on the road will slowly start to disappear until that 30 minute wait doubles and taxis cease to be a viable option for physically disabled individuals. It's no surprise that fielding a fleet of accessible vans is far outside the business model of a rideshare company. These outfits choose to pay drivers to drive their ride rather than supplying any for use. Yes, there are people who own and drive accessible vans as their daily driver; unfortunately most of these people are either disabled themselves and unable to help potential patrons, or are older and don't know their smartphone from their internets.
This problem has come to a tipping point, and now Uber and Lyft are gettingsued and sued and sued all over the place. More even than the physically disabled riders, there have been allegations that drivers for both companies have discriminated against blind or deaf patrons, and those with service animals.
What's the Solution?
There are no easy fixes for this problem. Lyft and Uber cannot currently field accessible vans to put their breadth of service on par with traditional cab companies. That being said, there are a lot of small fixes that could be made. The first of which is that a little training goes a long way. The drivers do go through a fairly substantial training session, but the section about dealing with disabled passengers is sparse at best. Secondly, instead of shying away from the issue of disabled passengers, these new rideshare companies need to come up with a substantive policy rather than a cold shoulder. While they are not currently regulated by the government and forced to abide by the ADA standards for transportation, that day is coming soon and they better be ready.