Two friends can share a taxi and split the fare, but the same option is not available to most wheelchair users — particularly if one or both use a large power wheelchair.

When I wrote about how wheelchair taxis are disappearing and the chance to share thoughts with the National Council on Disability, I hadn’t considered the perspective of families or friend groups where multiple wheelchair users are present. Getting a wheelchair taxi for one wheelchair user is difficult enough, but getting two wheelchair taxis at the same time is next to impossible in just about every American city.

UberWAV Dodge Grand Caravan with rear-entry wheelchair ramp extended.
UberWAV Dodge Grand Caravan with rear-entry wheelchair ramp extended in Washington, D.C.

I recently faced this challenge myself, as I was in the unique position of having to transport myself and my wheelchair, as well as my back-up wheelchair, across town at the same time. I first considered non-emergency medical transportation, since those lift-equipped vehicles can often transport two wheelchairs. The problem, of course, was the price — a few hundred dollars, whereas the cost of a single taxi would have been about $25.

Thankfully, Boston, Massachusetts is a city that is serviced not only by traditional wheelchair taxis, but also wheelchair accessible rideshare services provided by Uber and Lyft. While none of those companies offer vehicles capable of transporting two power wheelchairs, I surmised that I could order two vehicles at the same time — paying double the cost that nondisabled riders sharing a cab would, but still much less than if I had booked non-emergency medical transportation.

Two notifications on iPhone Home Screen showing Lyft and Uber vehicles en route to pick-up.

It is not possible to order two Ubers or two Lyft rides at the same time from the same phone, but you can order one of each. I was able to time the rides close together, and two wheelchair accessible vans arrived within a couple minutes of each other.

When the first driver arrived (David with Lyft), I explained what I was doing, and we loaded my back-up wheelchair into his accessible van. He secured the unoccupied wheelchair, then waited for me to load up in the UberWAV van before departing.

What I hadn’t considered was that Uber and Lyft might plot a different course to my destination, and that’s just what happened. The Lyft arrived a few minutes before my Uber, and I pulled up just as the Lyft driver was wheeling my chair onto the curb. It was a painless experience, and both drivers got a kick out of my ingenious plan. I tipped them both well for their cooperation.

Boston is one of only a handful of cities in the world where a trip like this is possible using Uber and Lyft, so I was of course very lucky. Rideshare services are rarely accessible, and we should not stop advocating for wheelchair accessibility wherever Uber and Lyft operate — it should be mandated at the federal level as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In cities without Uber and Lyft, riders might look to local cab companies, or perhaps those with side-entry wheelchair vans. In a side-entry wheelchair van, two wheelchairs can actually fit — I’ve done this in both my own wheelchair van (located in Florida), and in a friend’s accessible van. It takes some finesse to maneuver two power wheelchairs into place, but it may be possible depending on the size of the wheelchairs. I’m not sure if a taxi driver would have permitted it (they don’t typically have two sets of securement straps), but the point was moot since all wheelchair taxis in Boston are rear-entry.

Another cost-effective option might be paratransit, since those services often have space for multiple wheelchairs. I’m not sure if local policies would have permitted the carriage of a back-up wheelchair, and I’m not registered with paratransit, so I didn’t investigate that question. Paratransit can accommodate multiple wheelchair users traveling together in many jurisdictions, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Have you faced challenges in finding transportation for two wheelchair users at the same time? What have you done to solve for the problem? Do you think additional regulations are necessary to require space for two wheelchairs in a wheelchair taxi? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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