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Group Sues Uber Over Lack of Wheelchair Access

A civil rights organization in Washington, D.C., is suing Uber over what it says is a flouting of federal regulations about wheelchair accessibility.
Image: Uber at LaGuardia Airport
A sign marks a pick-up point for the Uber car service at LaGuardia Airport in New York on March 15, 2017.Seth Wenig / AP

A Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group has filed a lawsuit against Uber, alleging that the ride-hailing company has chosen to not to include wheelchair-accessible vehicles in its services.

The Equal Rights Center brought the lawsuit under the American with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities, including in transportation.

The suit says that none of Uber's approximately 30,000 vehicles operating in D.C. can accommodate wheelchairs. And while the Uber app does include an option to connect riders to non-Uber, wheel-chair accessible D.C. area taxis — the suit says that does nothing to increase access in the district.

"Uber is not exempt from anti-discrimination laws. It has a legal obligation to ensure that individuals with disabilities can access its transportation services without excessive costs and wait times," the center’s executive director, Melvina Ford, said in a statement. "This is a problem we know Uber can fix."

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Equal Rights Center said it conducted an investigation and found those using Uber's taxi wheelchair accessible vehicle service waited eight times longer for a ride than those using the UberX service, and paid up to twice as more in fares.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia Wednesday seeks to have Uber’s policies declared discriminatory; that Uber be required to come up with policies to allow those in wheelchairs to use access the service; and seeks compensatory and punitive damages to deter what it called "willful, wanton, and reckless conduct."

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Uber says on its website that it is piloting models in some cities "to determine which wheelchair accessible vehicle options best meet the needs of our riders" and drivers. Some of those pilot programs direct riders to commercial providers.

The company in 2015 announced a taxi option on its app to help connect those in wheelchairs with wheelchair-accessible taxis. The cost of the ride is the standard taxi meter rate plus a $2 Uber taxi booking fee.

The Equal Rights Center said in its suit that users of the Uber’s wheelchair-accessible taxi option "pay significantly more for a greatly inferior service." A lawyer representing the center accused Uber of "flouting federal and local accessibility laws."

Uber's model relies on drivers using their own vehicles to transport passengers. In Washington D.C., those requirements include vehicle that is a 2007 model or newer and is a four-door car or minivan.

A group in Chicago in 2016 also filed a federal lawsuit against Uber for what it said was a failure to provide access to those in wheelchairs in violation of federal law. The suit seeks a declaration that Uber is bound by Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.