Our Pledge To You

News

If cab business falls to Uber, who serves disabled people?

Cab line in front of Merchandise Mart. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

 

If Uber and other ride-hailing companies want to take over the transportation service industry, I’m all for it. If their business model is superior to the taxi industry’s, taxis should become roadkill.

But it makes my stomach churn that politicians let Uber and other ride-sharing companies, at the urging of slick lobbyists and high-powered investors, steamroll into cities, without holding them to the same rules as cabbies. That’s quickly destroying the livelihood of cabdrivers.

But there is another consequence we don’t hear much about: The effect of a dying taxi industry on Chicago’s disabled residents.

OPINION

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) has an ordinance pending in the City Council that could level the playing field to extend the life of cabbies and ensure that those with disabilities don’t continue to suffer setbacks in service.

For starters, Beale wants drivers for ride-sharing companies to be subjected to tougher licensing requirements and fingerprinting, same as cabbies and other chauffeurs. Marca Bristo, president of Access Living, a group that advocates for equal access for the disabled, doesn’t think that’s asking for too much.

“We, more than many, are relying on safety of rides,” Bristo, who uses a wheelchair, said.

Bristo’s group succeeded in pushing the city to require owners of taxi fleets to convert 5 percent of their cabs into wheelchair accessible vehicles, with a goal of reaching 10 percent by 2018, she said. Beale’s ordinance puts a 5-percent rule on ride-hailing companies. This is an absolute necessity.

Bristo points out that Uber has fought lawsuits trying to force the company to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I don’t blame her for wanting cabs to stick around.

Some disabled customers have complained to Bristo about surcharges when ride-sharing companies connect them to transportation providers who accommodate wheelchairs.

If the cab industry continues its rapid decline, and certainly it will without this ordinance, financing for specially equipped vehicles, such as wheelchair-accessible vans, soon will be nonexistent for cabbies, Bristo fears. As the larger fleets of cabs meet their demise, compliance with the 5-percent rule will die.

Another sticking point for her that Beale’s ordinance doesn’t address: When customers agree to rides with Uber, they agree to settle disputes in arbitration, rather than the courts. This is a widespread practice for companies across the country, and its existence in the ride-hailing business bothers Bristo because “people who might use courts for discrimination claims, they’re precluded from that.”

She says in some instances ride-hailing companies are a better option for the disabled. Some who are blind say they no longer worry about being passed up on the street by cabs. They are guaranteed a pick-up because they hail the ride through the app, though one company’s driver tried to put an Access Living staff member’s guide dog in the trunk.

“This is perceived as a war between cabs and ride-sharing,” Bristo said. “But I am really for equitable service.”

We should be past the days of people with disabilities being left out by the transportation industry, she said, adding:  “We’ve battled. We’ve won. Now to feel like we’re starting all over again is extraordinarily frustrating.”

Email: MarlenGarcia777@yahoo.com

Follow Marlen Garcia on Twitter: Follow @MarlenGarcia777