News bubbled out of Austin last week that the ride-sharing app Uber would add the capital city to a short list of areas in which Uber offers UberAccess. UberAccess allows app users to summon a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. In areas without UberAccess, Uber only guarantees that customers with wheelchairs that can fit into a trunk or backseat will be able to use the service — assuming the person wants to bring hiswheelchair with them to their destination.
Uber was sued in Texas last summer for not offering equal access for disabled passengers. That case was filed by an Austin resident who was upset that he was unable to hail an accessible Uber. In fighting the lawsuit, Uber has claimed that costs for outfitting some of its fleet to be wheelchair accessible or contracting for wheelchair-accessible service would be “extraordinary.” Uber also says that it's a technology company rather than a transportation company and shouldn't be subject to the same regulations as transportation providers.
Still, Uber was a part of the working group in Dallas that helped draft the city's long-gestating transportation-for-hire ordinance. Throughout the development of the ordinance, a process that ended in December with the final approval of the regulations in December, Uber has said that it's willing to abide by the regulations. They aren't exactly what Uber wanted, but they aren't what Lyft or Yellow Cab wanted either. The ordinance became effective on April 30. It requires drivers for Uber, Lyft, Yellow Cab or any other paid transportation provider to get a permit from the city, carry appropriate levels of insurance and maintain their vehicle. It also requires any transportation-for-hire companies accommodate potential passengers in wheelchairs at the same price as passengers who are not in wheelchairs.
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"When a wheelchair accessible vehicle is requested, the operating authority must provide a wheelchair accessible vehicle, or cause one to be provided, without unreasonable delay," the ordinance says.
As of last week, Uber still doesn't provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles, delayed or not, in Dallas. We asked Uber when they might bring UberAccess to Dallas, and whether they were in violation of the Dallas transportation-for-hire ordinance via email. We'll let you know if they get back to us.
Update 9:30 a.m.: Uber sent us a statement this morning. It does not address the Dallas ordinance.
"We launched uberACCESS in Austin as a pilot program. Our goal is to develop an innovative solution, rather than simply duplicate the same product already available by traditional transportation companies. We will be constantly monitoring and improving to make sure it works for those who need it. And we hope to expand to other markets like Dallas."