Uber vs Equality of Access by: Student Journalist

Uber vs Equality of Access







Ride sharing app, Uber is facing criticism that it’s inaccessible to many people with disabilities.

Uber currently faces lawsuits in the United States alleging discrimination against people with disabilities, in particular people who require wheelchair accessible vehicles. 

In Brisbane, Uber provides UBERX, UBERXL, UBERSELECT and UBERASSIST. None of these cater to people who require wheelchair access to a vehicle for transport.

In 2015 Uber launched a three day trial piloting UberWAV, using wheelchair accessible vehicles in Brisbane. The trial coincided with the National Disability Insurance Scheme Conference.

Brisbane UberWAV trial 2015. Photo: Kristian Silva

The three day trial ceased, but the service was never launched in Brisbane. 

In 2015 Uber launched UberASSIST in Brisbane. The service is designed to provide training to a number of drivers and provide a service that helps customers who require extra assistance or have unique access requirements. This service does not cater to people who require wheelchair accessible vehicles. 

Julian Cornehlsen is an Uber driver in Brisbane. He says Uber should investigate wheel chair vehicles for Brisbane and said it is a service he is interested in offering. 

“I think it would be a good idea… I don’t think it would be difficult, obviously there would be some costs involved” Mr Cornehlsen says.

“I guess before they spend the money to do that they would need to look at feasibility. For example, if I’m going to spend the money getting my vehicle fitted I want to know what I’m going get in return”. 

Julian says it is important to include all people in the community.

“I don’t think people should be treated any differently,” Mr Cornehlsen said.  

Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Kevin Cocks expressed his concern over the lack of wheelchair accessible vehicles in Brisbane through Uber at the Griffith University Project Open Doors Launch in July.

“Let me share the unintended consequences of Uber… If Uber keeps going and government is not regulating, there will be no accessible taxis left in Brisbane,” Mr Cocks said.

However where Uber is difficult for some to access, others with disabilities love the service.  

Chief Executive Officer of Deaf Services Queensland, Brett Casey told the launch Uber is fantastic for deaf people such as himself, as it overcomes many of the difficulties they face being understood verbally.

“Uber is great, it is a new way of getting a taxi,” Mr Casey said.

“But with taxis, they’re licensed and a particular percentage of taxis need to be accessible for people with a disability, especially for physical disabilities.”

For Uber there is not the same requirement. So if Uber takes off and the company grows, potentially there could be less taxis and public transport available for people with a disability. This is a major issue.

Mr Casey says, from his perspective, Uber is a useful service that makes travel easy.

Uber has a quick and easy smartphone app. Photo: Flickr

“For me, as a deaf person, Uber is great, because it is done through an app,” he said.

“It comes, I don’t have to talk to the driver, I don’t have to work out how I can communicate with the driver. They know where I am going. Everything is done automatically for me and it is brilliant and it is lovely.”

Hugh Lang is an Uber drive in Brisbane. Both his parents require wheelchair accessible vehicles. He also used to drive a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

“As an Uber driver I feel I do not have the adequate medical expertise, or knowledge to handle any medical emergency situation,” he said.

“Uber vehicles are personal vehicles, we the drivers are contractors. WAV vehicles are very expensive, they are harder to drive and cost a lot more to run. I would quit Uber if they tried to make me do it.” 

In Brisbane, YellowCabs offer Maxi Taxi services where taxis are equipped to transport people with disabilities. Drivers are trained to assist elderly and disabled people. 

Marty Ord is the Fleet Operations Manager at Yellow Cabs Brisbane. Mr Ord has worked at Yellow Cabs for more than 20 years. Marty’s wife is a wheelchair user, and Mr Ord has interest and knowledge in the areas of wheelchair transport.

Currently, Yellow Cabs provide 180 Brisbane wheelchair taxis. In 2016, Yellow Cabs carried out 97,000 wheelchair taxi trips. 

“People look at maxi taxi drivers and think they’re just running around picking up drunk people on a Friday night in the Valley. Well we are doing 97,000 wheelchair trips a year. There is a large number of people we are looking after, it is a real community service,” Mr Ord said.

Yellow Cabs Brisbane. Photo: Yellow Cabs

The Queensland government have now dropped a number of regulations that, in the past, have ensured taxi companies provided safe and effective services. Mr Ord described some of the possible consequences of this, especially now with services like Uber.

“Our concern is that the government have dropped regulations on age of vehicles, although we will police that within our organisation, it costs $82,000 to put a new wheelchair accessible vehicles on,” Mr Ord said. 

If an Uber driver was to purchase a wheelchair vehicle it may likely be an ex maxi taxi for $10,000 but that vehicle is going to have fatigue issues because it’s already lived an 8 year lifespan. With vehicles like this, you’re looking at real workplace health and safety issues for customers.”

The Queensland Government offers subsidies for taxi travel. The Taxi Subsidy Scheme subsidises half of the total fare, with a maximum fare of $25 a trip for people with severe disabilities. 

The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme means changes to the way Queenslanders with disability receive their disability support. On July 15 2017 the Queensland Government announced the Taxi Subsidy Scheme will continue for National Disability Insurance Scheme participants. 

Mr Ord said this affects the choices people with a disability can make about transport.

“I can’t imagine too many wheelchair users using Uber. I don’t think they would be cheaper,” Mr Ord said.

“At this stage they cannot use the subsidy vouchers. However, I’m sure the government will legislate down the track that if they’re given NDIS money it doesn’t matter how they spend it. That’s a question up in the air. But Uber is certainly not offering equal access to services.”

Stacey Copas is a wheelchair user and runs the Stacey Copas Academy of Resiliance. She cannot use Uber because they do not offer wheelchair vehicles in her area. 

“At this stage you cannot use the taxi subsidy vouchers with Uber,” Ms Copas said.

“They will soon be able to, so this may mean there will be more interest in people sourcing Uber for transport if they can provide wheelchair services.”

United Spinal members in New York protesting the lack of access to wheelchair accessible cars through Uber. Photo: United Spinal Association

In New York City, Uber is facing a class action lawsuit where nonprofit organisation, Disability Rights Advocates have accused Uber of discriminating against riders with disabilities by providing limited access to wheel chair accessible cars. 

Uber in Washington is being sued by the Equal Rights Centre, another nonprofit advocacy group. The group claim Uber is not adequately serving those with disabilities, in particular people who require wheel chair accessible vehicles. 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability was adopted on December 13 2006. It was the first human rights treaty of the 21st century. Australia signed The Convention on March 30th 2007.

The agreement sets out responsibilities countries have to make sure that disabled people have the same rights as everybody else. 

Guiding principles of The Convention include full and effective participation and inclusion in society, non-discrimination, equality of opportunity and accessibility.  

In Queensland, legislation encourages all Queenslanders to promote inclusion in communities. 

The Queensland Disability Services Act 2006 safeguards the rights and safety of people living with disabilities. It says people with disabilities have the right to equal access to services available to other members in their communities. 

Uber’s website states the company’s goal is to provide transport to all. It says the company’s goal is to make transportation more accessible to people with disabilities. The website outlines Uber’s commitment to building solutions that support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities. 

However the Uber Brisbane website clearly states in fine print at the bottom of the site that Uber is not a transportation provider. 

Uber was contacted for comment but did not respond. 

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