Disability rights organizations have long criticized Uber and its ride-hailing application for failing to serve people with disabilities and wheelchair users. To stem the onslaught of activists and the press, the company rolled out a wheelchair accessible uberWAV service in 2015.
The following year, I wrote an article that exposed UberWAV for what it actually was – a scam. Long story short: the original UberWAV acted as an intermediary between wheelchair users and the accessible taxis that already existed from providers like Yellow Cab. Worse yet: the cost of UberWAV was the standard taxi meter fare, plus a booking fee. This meant wheelchair users would end up paying more for a Yellow Cab wheelchair taxi booked through Uber than they would ordering the taxi directly from Yellow Cab. None of the savings offered to able-bodied Uber riders were given to people with disabilities. It was shameful, a scam and definitely illegal.
Fast-forward a year and things have improved dramatically for the better. Uber is out with a reboot of the UberWAV platform in a handful of cities. Brand-new fleets of rear-entry wheelchair accessible minivans have been purchased and leased to drivers who are trained to assist riders with disabilities. In some markets, drivers receive performance credits to offset the cost of leasing the ADA vans, making it a win-win for riders and drivers alike.
I recently tested out the new UberWAV in the Washington, D.C. Metro Area. I requested rides via the Uber mobile app (selecting the UberWAV vehicle type) in under a minute. The fare structure for the ADA accessible UberWAV is the same as Uber X (for able-bodied riders). The application will show you the fare estimate prior to booking.
After requesting a ride, it took a few minutes for a driver to accept the call. On both of my UberWAV rides in the D.C. area, the driver was busy completing a ride nearby. This added to my wait times, which were roughly 25 and 20 minutes from the time I requested the ride.
The new UberWAV vehicles are Dodge Grand Caravans with a rear-entry wheelchair ramp, just like you’d find in most taxi fleets. Uber’s ADA accessible vans are brand new, shiny and clean, of course. They also aren’t bright yellow!
Both of my drivers were exceedingly friendly and well-trained in loading and securing a wheelchair. They had also driven some distance to take my call, even though Uber (surprisingly) doesn’t require them to do so. I had great conversations, and it was a really pleasurable experience.
My first ride, from the Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel to Chinatown, cost just $11.86. I added a tip of $3, for a total cost of about $15. A great deal, and surely a savings over the standard taxi companies.
I was told that there are more than 100 UberWAV vans in the D.C. area, but I’m not sure I actually believe that. Three vehicles was the most I ever saw on the map. And, when I tried to request a ride near the Dulles Airport, there were no vehicles in the area to accept the call. For this reboot of UberWAV to make sense, they will have to guarantee an equivalent response time to wheelchair users throughout the metro area. With driver credits making the lease free to drivers in Washington, D.C., Uber should be able to require that wheelchair requests be prioritized above all others. Because these vans are also able to accept uberX and uberXL trips, wheelchair users find themselves competing with able-bodied riders for the vans specialized to their needs.
Uber has an opportunity to do a great deal of good by making their service accessible and reliable for all. I hope they take advantage of this unique opportunity to corner the market of wheelchair riders.
If you would like to try Uber for yourself, download the iPhone App or Android App on your mobile device. Apply the promo code johnm82489ue during sign-up and you’ll receive $5 off each of your first four rides with Uber. I will also receive a $10 credit for referring you. You don’t have to use my code, but I will appreciate it if you do!