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

Rideshares, TNCs, and Accessibility

Madonna Long, Member of NCIL Transportation Subcommittee 

TNCs – Transportation Network Companies – are also known as Ridesharing. You may have heard of a few of them, such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. Are they considered a public transportation company? TNCs say ‘no’. They respond that they are simply providing technology (via smart phone or other device) that connects people with a ride for a fare. But, isn’t that providing public transportation or an accommodation?

In the disability community, many say they are providing transportation just like taxi companies do. Many believe that these companies are sidestepping the importance of providing an accessible option for transportation to all citizens.

So who is a TNC Driver? A TNC driver is someone who has a personal vehicle and contracts with a TNC. They sign up on the TNC’s app to drive to make money by providing transportation to the public. TNCs so far are only permitted to get customers via an app, and not by other methods (phone, email, transportation stops, hailing) as taxis do.

TNCs are regulated mainly through state public utility commissions. Only a few states have passed legislation governing TNCs. Most regulation and legislation has had little or no protection for people with disabilities. Some local governments have also developed TNC policies, although many do not address accessibility for people who use power wheelchairs and scooters. 

Liberty Resources –Philadelphia, PA

Historically, transportation options throughout Philadelphia have been severely limited for people with disabilities. There are 1,600 taxi medallions that support a city of over 1.5 million people. Of these, only seven taxis are wheelchair-accessible. And to even get these seven vehicles has been a fight for the disability community. At the time of publication of this article, the final regulations for accessible taxis, which should gradually increase this number over time, were just approved by Pennsylvania’s Independent Regulatory & Review Commission (IRRC).

Like other areas, Philadelphians with disabilities can use paratransit vans, but reserving one often requires days of advanced notice. Planning a trip to school, the mall, or a doctor’s appointment can be a major challenge. Even with 45 more wheelchair-accessible medallion taxis being added later this year, overall transportation options in Philly will still grossly underserve the community of people who need a WAV.

Through the efforts of Liberty Resources (CIL in Philadelphia) and others there with disabilities, Uber is excited to make a dramatic difference in many Philadelphians’ lives by providing a wheelchair-accessible van (WAV) option for safe, reliable, and on-demand travel. While there are limitations, this is an exciting first step.

Unfortunately, as Uber makes limited efforts as those noted above, the TNCs as a whole have continued to oppose in practice and policy supporting options for those using power wheelchairs and scooters across the US. At this time, Lyft is also operating in Philadelphia and not providing accessible vehicle options.

While I note Philadelphia here, TNCs are operating all across the country and world in cities of all sizes, suburban areas, and smaller college towns. You can make a difference by getting involved with your local disability advocates and transportation organizations on issues related to TNCs so that they provide accessible options. Twenty five years after the ADA, we should expect more and not settle for less.

Advocates who support disability issues should work together to make sure that TNCs and other companies like these do not discriminate against people who have disabilities. It is important that we support each other even if some of us may be able to take a TNC. If we do not support each other, it’s a tear at the fabric of a law that we all pushed for. The ADA does not say, “You only have to provide service for one set of people who have disabilities”, it says discrimination is when you do not provide service for all, and TNCs do not provide service to many people with disabilities who use wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, and other mobility products. It is a clear violation of the law.

Madonna Long is a member of NCIL Transportation Subcommittee; Consumer Advocate Pride Mobility Products, VETaxi, and Star Transportation Group; formerly of MV1 & VPG Autos. Madonna has worked on taxi policy and improving accessibility for people with disabilities since 2011. 

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