Uber was sued at least thrice over the past year for failing to accommodate passengers with wheelchairs, but a new lawsuit proves that it's not the only ride-hailing service with poor accessibility. Non-profit org Disability Rights Advocates has filed a class-action lawsuit against the company on behalf of Independent Living Resource Center and two wheelchair users in the San Francisco Bay Area. The lawsuit accuses Lyft of violating the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which says people with disabilities are entitled to full and equal accommodations, and of the California Disabled Persons Act.
A spokesperson defended Lyft in a statement to TechCrunch, saying that the firm has "partnerships and programs in place to provide enhanced WAV (wheelchair-accessible vehicle) access in various parts of the country, and are actively exploring ways to expand them nationwide."
That spokesperson was likely talking about Lyft's program called Access, which was designed to serve people with disabilities -- and which the lawsuit calls a "sham." According to the plaintiffs, when riders activate Access mode and hail a car, Lyft sends them a text message "stating that [it] has no wheelchair-accessible vehicles available" and provides them "with a list of public transit, paratransit and taxicab phone numbers" instead. TechCrunch tried hailing a vehicle through Access and was able to replicate the text message that said:
"Lyft accommodates service animals and foldable wheelchairs. If you need a vehicle with a ramp or lift, visit http://lft.to/access to connect to local services."
Clearly, passengers who can't get out or into their wheelchair on their own will have to look elsewhere. Problem is, paratransits and public transpo aren't always equipped for wheelchair access, which is why passengers with mobility issues sometimes have no choice but to rely on ride-hailing services.
The plaintiffs explained in a statement:
"Lyft's discrimination compounds what is already a major societal problem -- extremely limited transportation options for people who use wheelchairs in the Bay Area. For instance, many parts of the BART system are inaccessible due to elevator outages. Bus service is often slow and may not take riders where they need to go. Wheelchair-accessible Ubers are rarely, if ever, available."
Disability Rights Advocates and the people they represent aren't asking Lyft for money (aside from attorney's fees, of course). They only seek to compel Lyft into improving accessibility and coming up with a proper solution for wheelchair-using passengers.