Uber Charts a Different Accessible Course in San Francisco

Last December ride-share giant Uber rolled out an accessible ride program in Washington DC. On the surface it seemed like a good idea, as they partnered with wheelchair-accessible cabs in the District to provide services to wheelchair-users. As I pointed out in a previous blog though, this might not be the most sustainable approach.

The problem is that Uber is partnering with the same companies they are trying to drive out of business – local cabbies. And if those companies fold, then who would provide the accessible rides?

I was happy that they chose a different approach in San Francisco. Granted it’s a trial program, but Uber has contracted with Jennifer Mendoza to provide rides to wheelchair-users in her accessible van. Her husband Peter uses a wheelchair, so she figured she’d make some extra cash when he wasn’t using their ramp-equipped Dodge Grand Caravan Van. It sounds like the perfect solution for everyone – the Mendoza’s earn some extra cash, and Uber is able to provide accessible services in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, Uber isn’t totally on the bandwagon with the idea. Although Mendoza has been trying to convince Uber to recruit more drivers with wheelchair-accessible vehicles, Uber is hesitant because they don’t feel there’s that large of a market. In fact, even though Mendoza worked 30 hours one week in January, and provided many rides, only four passengers were wheelchair-users. In a way that makes sense, because Uber has received a good amount of publicity (and more than a few lawsuits) about their lack of access, so what wheelchair-user would even think to call them?

So how many wheelchair-users does Uber serve (or deny service to) each year? Nobody knows, not even the California Public Utilities Commission, who recently fined Uber $7.6 million for not providing this required annual information.

So the bottom line is, unless you request a wheelchair-accessible ride while Mendoza is on duty, you’re going to be out of luck with Uber in San Francisco. And that’s sad. It’s no secret that unemployment and underemployment are rampant in the disabled community, and if Uber would actively seek out drivers who have accessible vans, this could be a win-win situation for everyone all the way around.

Hopefully Uber execs will come to their senses one day and realize this. In the meantime Mendoza will keep driving, so give Uber a try next time you need a ride in San Francisco. You never know – you might get lucky.