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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Lyft and Uber Service Dog Denials

By Melissa Carney

At the beginning of the year, a woman from Texas with cerebral palsy filed a lawsuit against Uber after she was denied service on 25 separate occasions during 2016 and 2017. She was left stranded without rides home from the grocery store, and was late to an important family gathering. An Uber driver in Boston told a blind woman that she was not allowed to enter his car, and her legally blind boyfriend was dragged down the street after the Uber driver rolled up the window with his arm inside as he tried to open the car door. A blind man from Tennessee was denied a ride home from an animal hospital. All of these incidents have occurred at different times, on different dates, and in different places, but one common theme prevails: all of these passengers were denied rides because of their service dogs.

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingAccording to Uber’s policy, “A driver-partner CANNOT lawfully deny service to riders with service animals because of allergies, religious objections, or a generalized fear of animals.” All drivers are made aware of this policy and are obligated to comply with the law upon signing their terms of agreement. If an Uber driver refuses to transport a rider because of their service animal, they violate the law and breach their agreement with Uber. If Uber determines that the driver knowingly refused to transport a rider and their service animal after thoroughly investigating the case, the driver is permanently removed from the platform. Lyft’s policy is very similar to Uber’s, but drivers have one chance to be educated before they are removed from the platform. Despite these strict policies and multiple lawsuits, such as the National Federation of the Blind’s settlement with Uber in 2016, drivers continue to take it upon themselves to make uninformed and discriminatory decisions as to who should be allowed in their cars. 

I have experienced at least one Uber denial in every city or state I have traveled to, including Washington DC, Boston, Orlando, small towns in Connecticut, etc. During the most recent incident, the driver and I had a 10-minute phone conversation, in which I told the driver that I was blind and would need assistance finding their vehicle, while they sat in their car just down the block staring at my guide dog and me. The driver complained that their car was for people and not dogs, refused to tell me where exactly they were located, and abruptly canceled the ride. A language barrier further amplified the issue. I tried to educate the driver; I attempted to explain that if they did not comply with the law, they would eventually be kicked off of the platform. I was as patient and polite as possible, but my efforts resulted in nothing more than a 15-minute standstill in the pouring rain as I waited for my next driver to arrive, and a cancelation fee for the bus I missed leaving the city.

It is horrifying to think that the treatment of people with disabilities often hinges on the mobility tool they use. Transportation services are an integral part of how we independently navigate through different cities and towns across the country, as are our service animals. To imply that we cannot use one navigational tool because of another, to be told that the cleanliness of a car is more valuable than freedom and autonomy, is absurd. An apology, a $5 credit, a promise that we will not be paired with the same discriminatory driver again, and an investigation of unlawful behavior is not enough.

People with disabilities have commitments and responsibilities just like anyone else. We have to travel to work, school, meetings, and other time-sensitive events. We would like to live our lives without the constant question of whether or not we will be discriminated against on any given day. Sometimes we can afford to be late and take the extra time to file complaints with Lyft or Uber, but sometimes we need to arrive at a specific place at a specific time because our obligations will not wait for us. We cannot be late for work on a consistent basis, lose out on previously booked public transportation, sacrifice visits to family members and friends, and so on. It is our right to live our lives without discrimination-induced disturbances.

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