Adam Ballard Testimony for May 25, 2016 Joint Committee Hearing

Testimony of Adam Ballard on May 25 before the City Council Joint Committee in support of Alderman Beale Ride Share Ordinance

My name is Adam Ballard. I am the Manager of Policy and Organizing at Access Living. Access Living is Chicago’s Center for Independent Living. Established pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act, Access Living’s statutorily mandated mission includes assisting individuals with disabilities in obtaining equal access to and participation in services, programs, activities, resources, and facilities, whether public or private.

I am here to support Alderman Beale’s Ordinance because anyone doing business in Chicago must be open to doing business with everyone, not just a select population. Alderman Beale’s Ordinance has three basic requirements. First, that everyone operates with the same background check. Second, that the ride share industry match the 5% minimum floor for wheelchair accessible vehicles. And, third, that each company operate a disability specific complaint and response system.

That is a bare minimum list. Access Living would also support the removal of Uber and Lyft’s mandatory arbitration clauses. Users should not have to give up their power to enforce their civil rights simply to use the Uber or Lyft app. And, 5% is an absolute minimum for accessible vehicles

In the past, Access Living and the disability community have fought hard to ensure that taxi cab and ride share companies would offer accessible service to all people, including wheelchair users. For the taxi industry, City Council passed an ordinance to make the taxis accessible. It was a significant victory in the history of making businesses open to serving all customers.

That victory is turning into defeat.

The Taxicab Ordinance started with a requirement that 5% of the taxi fleet be wheelchair accessible vehicles. A good start, but the Ordinance also required 10% of the fleet to be wheelchair accessible vehicles by January 2018. The percentage was scheduled to continue to increase until it reached 50% in 2030.
Unfortunately, an unequal playing field between the taxi industry and ride share companies is threatening to shrink the taxi fleet to the point that access to it is no longer useful. In January of this year alone, the taxi industry surrendered or lost to foreclosure 620 medallions. We understand that the value of the remaining medallions has declined to the point that companies can’t finance the purchase of new vehicles. Even if the taxi industry somehow meets the target of 10% accessible vehicles by 2018, the fleet is likely to have shrunk to the point that there will not be a useful number of wheelchair accessible vehicles on the road.

On the other hand, the ride share ordinance governing companies like Uber and Lyft only requires that these companies’ apps connect to another company that can actually dispatch wheelchair accessible vehicles. This is not the same standard City Council applied to the taxi industry.

Even though ride share companies are providing about 3 million rides per month in the City, their apps only connect wheelchair users to Central Dispatch. For connecting to a taxi company, Uber tacks on an additional $2.00 fee to the taxi fare.

For two years Uber has been promising to offer their own wheelchair accessible rides. As of August of 2015, they could only report providing 14 rides. Lyft reports no wheelchair accessible rides.

The promise delayed is a promise denied.

Just as we learned from the taxi industry, access for all can only be achieved through regulation and enforcement. The 5% requirement in Alderman Beale’s proposed Ordinance is a minimum starting point. That start must not be delayed. Transportation is changing rapidly, as Transportation Network Providers move into areas like Paratransit and driverless cars. If we cannot enforce access for all now, then we leave many Chicagoan’s out of the transportation systems of the future.
This afternoon, everyone sitting her could get an Uber or a Lyft to take them home for a fare that is less than cost of a taxi ride. I cannot.

I can use the app, but it will only send me to Central Dispatch to order what’s left of the accessible taxi cab fleet. The app will charge me an additional $2.00 for the service I could have received if I had called Central Dispatch myself.

What’s fair about that?

Transportation has always been on the leading edge of civil rights movements. Rosa Parks won the right to ride in the entire bus in the 60’s. The disability community won accessible bus transportation by chaining themselves to busses in the 80’s. Now, our civil rights are at issue in the access to the services of these ride share companies.

The City of Chicago can do better than it is currently doing. We ask you to support Alderman Beale’s Ordinance for that all Chicagoans can enjoy a rich assortment of transportation options.