New York City Disability Advocates Pressure Uber and Lyft for Accessibility

Disabilty activists are continuing the decades-old fight to make New York City car services accessible.

Advocates from the Taxis For All Campaign, a coalition of disability rights organizations and individuals in New York City, as well as taxi drivers and concerned citizens, attended a rally on the steps of New York City Hall on Tuesday morning to bring attention to the widening accessibility gap in the taxi industry.

The rally was partially in response to recent legislation from the City Council regarding car services that, although citing accessibility as a concern, failed to directly address any issues related to it, Joe Rappaport, a spokesperson for the Taxis For All Campaign told The Mighty. Disability advocates are frustrated by what they perceive as the council’s continued use of empty rhetoric. 

“The New York City Council considers itself progressive and says it’s looking out for all New Yorkers, especially those who have been ignored in the past, but when it comes to making sure that people who are disabled have a chance at an Uber, the council has so far fallen down on the job,” Rappaport told The Mighty.

The rally followed the recent release of a report on the for-hire vehicle industry by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, which advocates say, despite De Blasio frequently expressing support for making these vehicles more accessible, is light on details about how his office will get companies like Uber and Lyft to comply, The New York Daily News reported.

In attendance at the rally was United Spinal Association, the organization that sued New York City under the Bloomberg administration to require that future cabs be wheelchair accessible, The New York Times reported. As part of the settlement of this suit, Bloomberg promised half of the yellow cab fleet, or more than 7,500 cars, would be wheelchair accessible by 2020.

Now, car services like Uber and Lyft have complicated the issue. In response to its lack of accessibility, Uber has argued it links its users to green cabs that can transport New Yorkers with mobility issues. But, as De Blasio’s study found, companies like Uber and Lyft are growing and attracting more divers, so that, “the number of accessible yellow and green taxis becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of all for-hire vehicles.”

The report also suggested a way to fix this. The city could require companies like Uber and Lyft pay for the cost of switching to cars with wheelchair lifts with a passenger fee (the same way a yellow and green cabs do it). However, the timeline for when this could happen was unclear, only saying this option would be pursued in the coming years.

“Our goal is to make sure that however you hail a cab, whether you use an app or stick your hand out or make a phone call, you get a ride just as quickly as somebody who is not in a wheelchair gets one,” Rappaport told The Mighty. “Frankly, all cabs should be accessible.”

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