Lawsuit Claims Uber Is “99.9% Inaccessible” To People With Mobility Disabilities

Image courtesy of Uber

How hard is it for someone to get a wheelchair-accessible Uber in New York City? According to a new lawsuit, it’s pretty much impossible.

Nonprofit legal center Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action lawsuit [PDF] on behalf of a coalition of disability groups and disabled individuals in New York City, claiming that the ride-hailing service is 99.9% inaccessible to people with mobility disabilities in all five boroughs, in violation of the city’s anti-discrimination laws.

Not Enough Cars

Despite the fact that Uber offers wheelchair-accessible rides through its UberWAV service, the complaint alleges that of the company’s fleet of about 58,000 cars, there are fewer than 100 vehicles available that have lifts or ramps necessary to transport people using wheelchairs or other mobility-assistive devices.

Citing data from the United States Census American Community Survey conducted in 2014, the lawsuit claims that more than 500,000 non-institutionalized NYC residents have a mobility-related disability — and that’s not including the “hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities” that visit the city each year, the complaint claims.

In addition, it’s not like people with wheelchairs are the only ones using these vehicles; they aren’t reserved “for or used exclusively by mobility disabled passengers; they are available to and used by non-disabled passengers through UberX and other vehicle classes,” the complaint claims, a problem that is exacerbated during peak demand hours.

What this all boils down to is a lack of availability, the lawsuit says.

“Passengers attempting to use Uber’s accessible service face extended wait times, or are still denied access to the service altogether, demonstrating that the new service is nothing more than window-dressing, designed to avoid government regulation and legal requirements,” the complaint alleges.

Plaintiffs include the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, the Taxis For All Campaign, Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York, and individuals who use wheelchairs.

Transportation Challenges Aplenty

This lack of cars is especially tough on people with disabilities, as Uber “could be an especially crucial transportation option” for them, because other options in the city present barriers to access, the complaint claims.

“For example, the subway system, the city’s quickest, most important travel option, is largely unusable by people with disabilities as almost 80% of its stations are inaccessible for anyone who cannot use stairs,” reads the lawsuit.

In addition, the subway system doesn’t extend to all NYC neighborhood, unlike Uber. And although the city has agreed to ensure that 50% of all yellow cabs are accessible by the end of 2020, “Many drivers have abandoned medallion taxi cab jobs, turning to Uber” instead, the suit notes.

On-demand transportation services can fill these gaps for riders with disabilities, the lawsuits claims — “if they are operated in a non-discriminatory way.”

Because transportation is crucial for freedom and independence Uber is harming riders who need wheelchair-accessible vehicles by denying them equal service, the complaint alleges, by “interfering with the ability to work, attend school, shop for groceries, receive medical care, enjoy entertainment and cultural events, maintain family and social ties, and otherwise participate fully in the life of the city.”

Instead, riders who use wheelchairs have to arrange other transportation that could be more costly, less convenient, and less comfortable, the lawsuit claims. Or they could forgo activities that require travel altogether “which can lead to isolation and seclusion.”

“Uber provides a valuable transportation alternative to millions of New Yorkers, allowing people to more easily travel to work, social events, community engagements, appointments, and other destinations, yet Uber excludes people with mobility disabilities from these same benefits of its convenient transportation,” the lawsuit claims.

It’s seeking class-action status, and wants Uber to implement a plan “to ensure full and equal access to its services for riders who require accessible transportation.”

A rep for Uber maintained to Consumerist that the company has expanded access to reliable transportation for all riders, including those with disabilities. .

“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 vehicle,” the rep told Consumerist.

No Stranger To Mobility Complaints

This isn’t the first time Uber has faced this kind of lawsuit: Last fall, a Chicago disability rights group sued the company claiming that it doesn’t provide reliable access to vehicles equipped to handle wheelchairs.

Riders in Washington, D.C., also sued Uber recently, accusing it of denying equal access to people who use wheelchairs.