Uber and Lyft fail to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles in New York City 70 percent of the time, a scathing new report found. The evidence underscores the long-running battle between disability rights groups and the ride-hailing companies over the availability — and economic viability — of wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
Researchers with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest made dozens of requests for wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAV) on Uber and Lyft in New York City last May, and their findings were pretty damning.
Lyft located a WAV for only 3 of 65 attempts (a 5% “success” rate), rendering the service non-functional for wheelchair users, while Uber located a WAV in only 27 of 49 different attempts (a 55% “success” rate). Combined, Uber and Lyft located a WAV in only 26% of attempts, while they located non-accessible vehicles 100% of the time.
When WAVS were located, NYLPI found a major disparity in estimated waiting times between requests for accessible and inaccessible vehicles. The estimated wait time for a WAV was 17 minutes, versus a four-minute estimated wait for inaccessible service.
Moreover, not a single wheelchair-accessible vehicle could be located at NYC’s two major airports, which are major destinations for people with disabilities. At John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport, Uber and Lyft failed to locate a single WAV in 17 attempts. In contrast, Uber and Lyft located inaccessible vehicles at the airports 100% of the time.
“The statistics were astounding,” said Ruth Lowenkron, director of the disability justice program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “That’s different from saying we were surprised, though, because sadly we anticipated this.”
And this isn’t a new problem, either. Uber was sued by disability advocates last year, accused of denying equal access to people who use wheelchairs and violating Title 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission recently passed a new rule requiring ride-hailing companies to make wheelchair-accessible service a growing part of their operations. The rules, which are set to go into effect in July, mandate that within a year, 5 percent of all trips dispatched by black car dispatchers (like Uber and Lyft) be in wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The portion will rise to 25 percent by July 2023. The accessible rides will be required regardless of whether they were requested by a person using a wheelchair, which the city says will keep the vehicles in operation and improve service for those who need them.
In addition, the TLC launched a pilot program put forward by a coalition of for-hire vehicle operators as an alternative to the city agency’s mandate. The plan directs approved dispatches, which include Uber, Lyft, and a separate black car company, to create a centralized dispatch system to serve people with disabilities on an as-needed basis.
“Uber is committed to working with the TLC to make the [for-hire vehicle] Accessbility Pilot a success and increase access to reliable service to New Yorkers in wheelchairs,” an Uber spokesperson said. A Lyft spokesperson said, “Lyft feels strongly about ensuring that those who need rides most are able to get them and we are committed to working with the TLC on the FHV pilot program to expand service for New Yorkers in wheelchairs.”
Uber and Lyft are also suing to block the implementation of the city’s WAV mandate, along with the ride-sharing company Via. Last April, the companies filed a petition in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, asking that the TLC mandate be vacated and annulled. Arguments in the suit are expected to be heard this week.