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Uber Seeks Changes To Wheelchair-Accessible Taxi Bill

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Wheelchair-accessible taxis like this one shown in New York City are hard to come by in D.C.
(AP Photo/General Motors, Emile Wamsteker)
Wheelchair-accessible taxis like this one shown in New York City are hard to come by in D.C.

Uber is lobbying to change proposed legislation designed to increase the paltry number of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in Washington, because the bill could “place excessive regulatory burdens on private vehicle-for-hire companies,” a spokesman for the tech company said.

The For-Hire Vehicle Accessibility Amendment Act (pdf) would provide tax credits of up to $10,000 for D.C. cab companies — and individual drivers enlisted with Uber or other ridesharing platforms — to buy wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The D.C. Council’s finance committee approved the measure without objections by lawmakers, but now that the bill is headed for Council member Mary Cheh’s (D-Ward 3) transportation committee, Uber is pushing for changes.

A proprietary question

Uber wants to avoid any requirement to report the numbers of wheelchair-accessible trips requested and provided to passengers. Uber successfully has fought all past attempts to force the company to report trip data, claiming it is proprietary. In this case, Uber has requested the reporting requirement apply only to public for-hire vehicles: the District's approximately 7,000 metered taxicabs.

Advocates for the disabled contend that all participants must be subject to the reporting mandate in order to measure the program’s success.

“We believe that transportation access is a civil right,” said Carol Tyson of the United Spinal Association. “The reporting requirements are important because we want to know if you have purchased a wheelchair-accessible vehicle and whether you actually are using it to provide quality service.”

Uber declined to make one of its representatives available for an interview, but the company issued a brief statement.

“We are working with Council member Cheh’s office on a bill that will help provide greater accessibility to riders while at the same time not place excessive regulatory burdens on private vehicle-for-hire companies,” the statement said.

Different plan to meet requirements

Less than 1 percent of D.C.’s taxi fleet is wheelchair-accessible, an embarrassingly low figure considering how long disability advocates have pressured District officials to act. However, current law requires all cab companies that own at least 20 vehicles reach 6 percent accessibility by the end of the year.

The required target increases to 12 percent in 2016 and 20 percent in 2018. Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and other ridesharing platforms are not required to meet these goals, and Uber currently has few if any wheelchair-accessible drivers on its UberX platform.

But Uber plans on accessing wheelchair-ready rides, and thus is fighting the reporting requirement and other provisions in the legislation headed for Council member Cheh’s committee.

As individual cab companies grow their wheelchair-accessible fleets, Uber intends to privately sub-contract the vehicles from those companies.

The company’s representatives are seeking to avoid current regulations that stipulate wheelchair-accessible taxicabs must be dispatched through one of the D.C.-approved digital dispatch services or central taxicab dispatch companies to ensure required monitoring and reporting. Council member Cheh’s office released a statement saying she has not made any final decisions on the legislation’s language.

“Through these discussions, it is my hope that the Council will pass legislation that will result in a significant increase in the number of wheelchair-accessible for-hire vehicles operating in the District, and provide effective mechanisms to achieve that goal,” the statement said.

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