On-demand ride-sharing companies like Uber say they’re in the business of transforming urban transportation, improving efficiency and access for everyone.
We’re in the same business.
Over three decades, people with disabilities have disrupted the status quo and changed the urban landscape. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t ride buses and couldn’t get around on sidewalks; today we can. We did it through litigation, protest, civil disobedience and political action. Chicago is better for it.
The path for Uber has been easier; such is the power of capital. It’s enabled it to ignore laws and encouraged public officials to look the other way. People with disabilities are losing ground in the fight for equal transportation as a result.
The ongoing fight for equal access to transportation defines the disability movement. It’s a basic requirement for social and economic integration.
Uber says they’re allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities. They say they’re an app, not a transportation company. A legal complaint filed this week by Access Living challenges the assertion. The courts will decide whether their services constitute a “public accommodation” requiring compliance with federal civil-rights laws. But it is apparent that Uber has established, de facto, a new urban transportation system.
We have long pushed the taxi industry for improved access, and have made some progress with agreements to put more Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAV) on the street. But the rapid growth of market share for Uber and other ride-share companies is drying up the capital needed (banks will no longer finance new vehicles for the aging taxi fleet). Prospects for significantly increasing accessible taxis under this regime are unclear, to say the least.
Uber ignores regulations and sidesteps its obligations under civil rights law, yet is, bizarrely, a darling of many elected officials. A proposed ordinance to give the public a reasonable say in how ride-sharing companies operate in Chicago was rendered toothless by Uber allies earlier this year.
What should the community expect from a $60 billion company that has taken over a major segment of the public transportation network? We will do our best to answer that in detail in the coming months. We’ve been fighting for access for a long time. Our resolve hasn’t changed, nor has our rallying cry.
We will ride.
Marca Bristo is president and CEO of Chicago-based Access Living.