On Tuesday, Disability Rights Advocates, on behalf of a litany of advocacy groups and individuals, filed a class action discrimination lawsuit against Uber in Manhattan’s State Supreme Court, Winnie Hu of The New York Times reports.
The suit claims Uber does not provide adequate service for passengers with disabilities. Of the 58,ooo Uber cars on New York City streets, it alleges, less than 100 are accessible, uberWAV vehicles, which are generally equipped with lift equipment and/or ramps. Moreover, such cars are routinely dispatched to service customers without disabilities.
As a result, wait times for customers who require UberWAV service are prohibitively long. Valerie Joseph, a wheelchair user who commutes from Queens to Brooklyn for her job, told The New York Times she no longer uses Uber, though the service would be useful to her.
“Even when an UberWAV vehicle is technically available,” the lawsuit says, “because so few exist, there are typically frequent and lengthy delays…[Therefore,] people who use wheelchairs and use UberWAV must contend with missed appointments, being late for events and other stress and inconvenience.”
The suit asks the court to order Uber to “develop and implement a remedial plan to ensure full and equal access to its services for riders who require accessible transportation.”
Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang argues that the company has already taken steps to do just that. Uber provides incentives to drivers of wheelchair accessible cars, including a $10 bonus for each completed trip and a reduced commission fee. The company proposed a 5 cent surcharge on luxury trips which would have gone to the state to be used to encourage other transportation companies to provide accessible options.
“Uber’s technology has expanded access to reliable transportation options for all riders,” Ms. Anfang said. “While there is certainly more work to be done, we will continue advocating for a solution that offers affordable, reliable transportation to those who need a wheelchair accessible vehicles.”
Plaintiffs have been successful in similar cases. In 2011, an advocacy organization called the Taxis for All Campaign sued New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission for failing to provide adequate access to disabled passengers. At that point, just under 2% of the city’s taxis could accommodate wheelchairs.
After a lengthy legal battle, the parties settled out of court in 2013. The TLC agreed to make 50% of its yellow taxis accessible by 2020.
In April, a similar class action suit was brought against the Metropolitan Transport Authority, claiming New York City’s subways were among the least accessible public transportation systems in the nation, The New York Times’ Eli Rosenberg reported in April. Rosenberg says “more than 75 percent of the city’s 472 subway stations do not have elevators, lifts or other methods that make them accessible for people who use wheelchairs, mobility devices or are otherwise unable to use stairs.”
The plaintiffs in that case did not request financial compensation, but asked the court to require the MTA to improve its elevator maintenance procedures and to develop a long-term plan to increase accessibility. No information was available concerning the current status of that case.
In September, the TLC will hold a public hearing regarding its separate proposal calling for stricter ADA compliance amongst For Hire Vehicle companies throughout the industry. “The change,” according to an official statement by the TLC, “would require all FHV [For Hire Vehicle] Bases to send 25% of their dispatched trips to wheelchair accessible vehicles.”
A host of accessibility-based lawsuits have come through New York’s legal system in the past year, and the city is poised to make great strides toward becoming one of the nation’s most accessible major cities, especially in the transportation arena.
If the class action suit against Uber is successful in New York, advocacy groups and disabled individuals throughout the country may bring similar suits against the mega-popular ride-hailing service. In fact, this suit could compel Uber to change its accessibility practices across the country.
Featured Image via Flickr/Mark Warner