October 18, 2016
Uber sued by disability group
Taxi cab companies and ride services have been looking for Uber’s kryptonite for years now without much success. Lawsuits haven’t worked. Political action hasn’t worked. Petitions, drives, and commercials haven’t made a dent. People love Uber, and they are choosing the ride service by the millions.
But there’s a growing movement in Chicago that aims to change that, and they may just have the right level to make it happen. A disability rights group claims Uber offers little to no wheelchair accessibility, saying Uber’s compliance with federal disability laws “ranges from token to nonexistent.”
According to the Associated Press, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago sued Uber, hoping to earn an order that would require the company to comply with the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, which would force the company to increase the availability of ADA-compliant vehicles.
This could spell big trouble for the company, which has survived many previous attacks due mainly to the goodwill of its legion of enthusiastic customers.
The company’s answer to the suit is certainly not going to win friends, even if they may have a legally winning argument. The AP says Uber’s position is simple, they’re a tech company, not a transportation company, so they’re not obligated to meet ADA requirements.
Whether or not Uber is obliged to follow the ADA standards is at the core of the argument in the courts. Meanwhile, headlines about Uber “discriminating” against the disabled should create a firestorm of negative publicity and leech away some of the goodwill the company has earned with their customers.
While Uber does have a service called WAV, which shows customers where a vehicle with a ramp or a lift might be, customers complain there just aren’t any nearby … ever. And that’s the basic rub of the argument. Uber’s business model does not require drivers to have a specific vehicle, just a specific operating capability. If the disability group wins their suit, it could force Uber to do what they don’t want to do, buy and maintain a fleet. The other option would be to sublet to companies that offer the service, but the conflicting costs for that sort of venture likely would not align.
It’s a problem with teeth and one that will have a strong public relations component no matter what happens in court.