Disability Rights Advocates Call Out Uber Over Accessibility Issues


Uber still has a long way to go in order to make its transportation network fully accessible to New Yorkers in wheelchairs, a disability rights organization said ahead of Sunday's 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The United Spinal Association last week released a television ad and a series of mailers criticizing Uber in the midst of tense negotiations between the city and the app ahead of a City Council vote concerning whether the service would face an expansion cap in New York.

“I’m so shocked about how much discrimination there is in New York City,” Dustin Jones, a disability rights advocate, says in the video. “Getting around the city in a wheelchair is hard. People look the other way.”

Jones went on to point out the progress the city’s disability rights advocates have made toward their goal of making half the city’s yellow taxi fleet wheelchair-accessible -- the city has agreed to achieving that goal by 2020 -- and claimed that, of Uber’s 14,000-strong fleet, zero vehicles are similarly accessible. He also accused Uber of poaching taxi drivers who had been operating wheelchair-accessible cars.

In response to the criticism, Uber pointed to its wheelchair-accessible UberWAV service, which the company said in a statement to Capital New York, launched last August and makes over 300 pickups weekly. The UberWAV service allows users to request a wheelchair-accessible city taxi, but not a black car or any other option, through the app. Spokesman Khan Shoieb added that the app plans to expand that service in the future.

Presently, UberWAV primarily serves the four outer boroughs, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island; the New York Daily News reported in January, that the service is not available in Manhattan below East 96th Street, so the majority of that borough is not covered.

The United Spinal Association counts transportation equity, particularly access to taxis, among one of its key advocacy issues. According to the organization’s website, cities like Chicago, San Francisco and London -- which offers 100-percent wheelchair-accessible taxis -- have already taken action on this issue. 

The organization has also pushed for more accessibility in Washington, D.C. In response, Uber DC called itself “an ardent supporter of expanding accessible options” for people in wheelchairs in the D.C. area and indicated that it is working to improve its accessible services in the District.

Meanwhile, a deal reached this week between Uber and the city ahead of the anticipated City Council vote put a proposed cap on the app's growth in New York on hold -- for the time being. As part of the deal, the app agreed to participate in a congestion study.