Uber is the ride-sharing tech giant that promises transportation at an affordable price, lower than that of traditional taxi companies. Until recently, that transportation has been limited to the able-bodied. Numerous lawsuits have targeted Uber for disability discrimination, citing the inaccessibility of their vehicles and an unwillingness of drivers to transport people with manual wheelchairs or service animals.
In December, though, there was some good press: Uber had introduced the ability to reserve wheelchair accessible vehicles (with ramps to accommodate powered chairs) in its Washington, D.C. market. Similar options had already been available in a handful of other cities, including Austin, Texas and San Francisco, California.
The purpose of Uber is to connect consumers to a low-cost, point-to-point transportation option that is both quick and easy to use. In the cities where the company has implemented the uberACCESS, uberWAV or uberTAXI wheelchair accessible services, wait times are often exceedingly long, or the service is not regularly available. While these shortcomings have been reported on extensively by the media, they have failed to address the elephant in the room: price.
Wheelchair Accessible Uber Is A Rip-off
The cost of UberWAV in Washington, D.C. does not fulfill the requirement of equal access and equal fare that is imposed on traditional cab companies by the ADA. In the nation’s capital, a standard Uber X (accessible only to the able-bodied) operates based on the following fare schedule (source):
Base Fare: $1.15
Per Minute: $0.17
Per Mile: $1.02
Booking Fee: $1.35
Cancellation Fee: $5.00
Compared to regular cabs in the District, it’s a great deal. That’s why Uber has experienced such success in business. People use Uber because it allows them to save significant amounts of money on transportation. But read what Uber says about their Washington, D.C. service for wheelchair users (source):
The cost of a wheelchair accessible vehicle ride is the standard taxi meter rate, plus the standard uberTAXI $2 booking fee. We’ll be reimbursing riders requesting wheelchair accessible vehicles for the $2 booking fee through 1/31/16.
*Please note: a 20% gratuity is automatically added for all uberTAXI rides by default, but riders can change this amount in the account settings online.
Here’s the secret: For wheelchair users requesting an accessible Uber in D.C., the company is only connecting you with one of the local cab companies. You won’t get Uber’s discounted rate – you’ll instead pay the city’s standard cab fare. Oh, and they’re collecting a $2.00 booking fee to boot. The “standard taxi meter rate” you’ll be paying for a ride originating in the District is based on the following schedule (source):
Flag Drop (First 1/8 mile): $3.25
Per Mile: $2.16
Wait time per minute (stopped or below 10 mph): $0.41
Trip surcharge: $0.25
Additional passengers: $1.00 each
Declared Snow Emergency Fee: $15.00
Those prices aren’t reflective of the affordable rates that able-bodied riders are entitled to. You’d get the same deal calling the taxi cab company directly and cutting out the middle man. Sure, using an app might be easier than calling or texting your request, but the financial benefit goes to Uber, who is taking a cut of your metered fare.
The positive press Uber has received is undeserved. The company has done nothing more than piggyback onto the existing accessible transportation options. What Uber’s corporate office calls “a step in the right direction” isn’t really a step at all. There is no expansion of access, no increase in the availability of accessible transportation, and no cost savings.
In most cases, requests for uberACCESS and uberWAV are outsourced to the local taxi companies – not private Uber drivers. In the cities where Uber does offer an option to reserve wheelchair accessible transportation, rates are either equal to those of local taxi companies (Chicago, D.C., New York City, etc.) or higher (Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.). In many of those cities, rate tables for wheelchair accessible vehicles are not even listed on Uber’s website.
Uber has gone to great lengths to paint the picture that they are working to expand access to transportation for people with disabilities. It’s a lie. The company has orchestrated a way, in many markets, to take a cut of the fares for accessible transportation that was already available to the disabled.
In the cities where Uber’s accessible vehicles are sourced from outside the local taxi companies, fares have been tied to the expensive uberSUV schedule, which far exceeds the standard local cab fare. The only equitable solution is for Uber to implement a pricing structure for wheelchair users that matches those of the uberX or uberXL platforms. Vans like the Dodge Caravan and Honda Odyssey are offered under the the company’s affordable uberXL segment. It is discriminatory for the accessible versions of a vehicle type to be priced higher, and it is a violation of the ADA.
In examining the numbers, it is clear that wheelchair users are better off cutting out the middle man (Uber) and reserving accessible transportation directly through the local cab companies. Although the Uber brand has become synonymous with value, no such savings are available to wheelchair users requiring an adapted vehicle. In my opinion, the accessible Uber proposition is a disingenuous sham.
HELP ME EXPOSE Uber for what it is – a company that discriminates against riders on the basis of disability. Share this story on Facebook and Twitter so that we can lift the shroud and promote equal access to transportation for ALL people.