Ride-sharing was hailed as the wave of the future, but as a recent study shows, it’s only the future for some. Women and people of color, as it turns out, have a tough time getting a lift on ride-sharing apps. The finding has sparked a conversation about discrimination at the ride-sharing giant, but there’s a glaring elephant in the room.
Just last month, a Chicago-based disability rights group filed suit against Uber, the heavy hitter in the room, citing discrimination — and it’s not the first time.
In fact, while this study didn’t explore the experience of disabled customers, disabled people across the U.S. have repeatedly complained about discrimination from canceled rides to verbal abuse to being ordered to put service dogs in the trunk.
The study, conducted in Seattle and Boston, found damning evidence of race and gender discrimination not just on Uber, but also on competitors Lyft and Flywheel.
People are right to be perturbed about this, especially in light of other recent evidence of discrimination in the sharing economy: racism on Airbnb.
But when it comes to disability, Uber and its competitors have had problems from the very beginning — and no one is talking about them.
The Chicago suit argues that as Uber has risen in prominence, the company has become a significant enough part of the transportation landscape that it can no longer hide behind claims of independent contractors: It must provide accessible vehicles.
Uber has, in fact, claimed that it wants to increase the availability of accessible rides, but disability rights activists haven’t seen that pan out. Wheelchair users and others with mobility equipment still report getting ride cancellations and complain about pricing discrimination.
In 2014, disability rights activists filed suit in San Francisco over service animal discrimination, and the case was only settled recently.
Ubering can be a roll of the dice for many disabled people, who may otherwise rely on slow paratransit that often doesn’t work with their schedules.
After multiple suits surrounding disability issues, the company has put forth token efforts in several cities, but the Chicago suit is important. It’s not just about discrimination, but about demonstrating that Uber should be subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which bars discrimination on the basis of disability.
If the plaintiffs can prove their point, that could set a precedent to apply elsewhere — one disability activists think is long past due.
It’s one thing if a friend offering a ride doesn’t have an accessible car, or if your office carpool isn’t accessible. But it’s another if a company that’s positioning itself as a legitimate competitor with the taxi industry — to the point of displacing other transportation — isn’t accessible.
Oddly, taxis have an exemption under the ADA, though some cities have overridden it to provide a mandate. Uber’s firm argument that it is not a taxi company could ironically work against it. If it’s a non-taxi transportation company, it may be subject to ADA regulations on accessibility.
As people discuss discriminatory practices on ride-sharing services, they must keep disability in mind as well.
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