THE BRONX — Dustin Jones has been in a wheelchair since a surgical accident in 2011 — the same year e-hailing cab company Uber arrived in New York City.
To hear Jones tell it, he was heartened to learn of the taxi app, which by all accounts seemed innovative, progressive and a potential boon for all passengers.
But the first time he tried to use Uber, he was shocked and disappointed.
Jones, who lives in West Farms, recalled “the driver telling me he doesn’t have space for myself and my chair, and he told me I should take a taxi.”
“He told me, ‘I don’t think we have any wheelchair-accessible vehicles,’ and it turned out to be correct,” the 28-year-old explained.
“My main gripe with Uber is they have been in New York since 2011 with absolutely no accessible vehicles,” Jones continued, noting that the company is valued at over $60 billion and claims to have some 35,000 vehicles in New York City.
“They’re always talking about how they’re serving New York and they have so much growth in their system. Why is it that this company, that has all this money and is revolutionizing the transportation business not just in New York but worldwide, isn’t thinking about the disability community?”
Jones said that when he has tried to raise the issue with Uber, “they have no progressive ideas or even are willing to change anything about it.”
So he turned to New York City’s Commission on Human Rights in January, filing a discrimination complaint against the company.
“The Human Rights Commission has been really awesome when it comes to handling this,” he said. “They’ve been a little bit slow, but they have a lot of cases, so it’s understandable.”
Jones is less forgiving of the City Council, however.
“This is something we’ve been raising with them for over a year and they’re not doing anything. If this was a situation where Uber was not transporting people who were gay or African-American, I think something would have been done already by the City Council,” he said.
“I think that the disability community is generally overlooked, and Uber is using that to their advantage.”
Uber’s response is that the company offers a special service to disabled riders through its Uber WAV (Wheelchair-Accessible Vehicles) option.
“Uber has helped make the accessible taxi system work, allowing New Yorkers with disabilities to push a button and get a ride within minutes,” Uber spokesman Matt Wing said. “There is always more work to do to better serve this community, but it is worth pointing out that Uber has been commended for increasing the freedom, flexibility, and mobility of riders and drivers with disabilities.”
The company also provides voice and vibrating-alert features for visually impaired, deaf or hard-of-hearing riders, and all cars in their system are required to accommodate folding wheelchairs, Wing added.
But WAV only connects users to handicapped-accessible green or yellow cabs, which Jones maintains is unequal.
“It’s a flawed system. If you call Uber, you’re going to get a black car. Why is it we’re not able to have the same features that able-bodied customers have?” he said. “It’s insulting, and this is why we used the word discriminating. If it was someone of a different race or a different culture, this would not be tolerated.”
Other disability advocates have noted that Uber is “simultaneously undermining” the green and yellow taxi industry.
Wing noted that Uber recently launched a pilot program in Manhattan with UberX black cars that are accessible for wheelchairs that don’t fold, but it’s still in the early stages.
Uber agreed to a settlement over the summer after it was charged with discriminating against a 9/11 survivor with a guide dog.
A spokesman for the city’s Human Rights Commission said he couldn’t provide information on the case but that the agency is still investigating.
A spokesman for the City Council said it is still reviewing a letter Jones sent earlier this week on the heels of a report detailing racial discrimination by Uber and Lyft drivers in Boston and Seattle.
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