State may require rideshare companies to own fleet of wheelchair accessible cars

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Jonathan Lyens, who is blind, said a rideshare driver drove away when he saw Lyens' guide dog at a hearing on the rideshare industry last week.
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

As cabbies flee the taxi industry to drive for so-called rideshare companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, specially made taxis for the disabled are left sitting idle in their garages. 

At a hearing last week, SFMTA Taxi Director Christiane Hayashi said the city is in a disability community transit crisis. But the Guardian has learned that the California Public Utilities Commission is considering requiring rideshare companies to provide their own vehicle fleet for the disabled community. 

“We could require these companies to own their own fleet,…a fleet that’s accessible to the disabled community,” Marzia Zafar, the director of policy and planning division at the CPUC, told the Guardian. “We can certainly do that when we have the information, if we see that divide.” 

The plan could be implemented as early as September, she said. 

If so, it would be a first for the nascent rideshare industry, legally known in California as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) because they link drivers to customers via an app. The companies contend they are not taxi services and only are technology providers. 

It’s a legal defense they’ve used to avoid paying insurance in accidents. The change would move the companies closer to mirroring taxi companies, Hayashi said.

“At that point, why aren’t they taxis?  Other than the paint job, they are pretty much the same,” she told the Guardian. 

CPUC director of policy and planning division at the CPUC tells the Guardian that TNCs like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar may be required to provide wheelchair accessible vehicles. 

Notably, the TNCs are regulated by the CPUC, whereas taxis are regulated by municipalities. In San Francisco, that would be the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. It’s that divide that was debated last week at the Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee meeting.

At the committee, Sup. Eric Mar held a hearing on the regulatory status of rideshare companies.  Standing at a podium in front of the supervisors, Hayashi provided data on the declining use of paratransit vehicles, which are taxi vehicles modified to allow disability access like wheelchair use and railings. 

In January of 2013, there were about 1,400 wheelchair rides within the paratransit system, and by December 2013, the monthly usage was at about 600 rides. 

The reason? There were fewer cabbies left to drive them, she said. The drivers are leaving for the TNC companies, which have higher profit margins due to their lesser regulatory burdens. 

Jonathan Lyens, a man who is legally blind and uses a guide dog, said at the hearing that a rideshare vehicle refused him service because he didn't want the dog in the car, and another driver said he didn't mind the dog because he was "being nice," but wasn't required to carry the dog in his vehicle. 

One of the burdens the taxis have but the TNCs do not, yet, is a responsibility to provide wheelchair accessible cars and to guarantee access for the disabled. 

The TNCs, Lyft, Sidecar, Uber, and others were however required to file their disability access plans with the CPUC. Few touch on providing wheelchair access. They mostly mention non-discriminatory statements and giving access to the blind -- all fixes that don’t require changes to existing vehicles, only the companies’ apps.

Uber’s plan, laid about by parent company Rasier, mentions a checkbox for disability needs: “A user’s profile will have a field in which the user may indicate that she or he has a need for accessible vehicles and a field that allows a user to specify his or her access needs.”

But it also mentioned providing its own vehicles as well: “Rasier will reach out to transportation companies with accessible vehicles about the possibility of partnering with Rasier to provide accessible transportation to users of the App.”

We reached out to Uber spokesperson Andrew Noyes and asked what the company can do, if anything, to bridge the access gap for the disabled in the short term. Noyes said Uber has made its app more accessible to the disability community.

“Technology is rapidly transforming the transportation industry, and Uber is proud of the positive effect our technology has had on increasing the mobility and freedom of our users and partner-drivers with disabilities,” he said. 

He sent us an email laying out key points on Uber’s disability access: 

  • Uber has been lauded by many visually impaired riders for increasing their mobility with a reliable transportation request option that is adaptable to their needs.
  • Uber has taken significant steps to ensure accessibility of its app, including implementing full VoiceOver support for its iOS application.
  • Uber and Rasier have partnered with hearing-impaired drivers who use technology to communicate with their passengers.
  • Uber has made it easier and cheaper for patients to request transportation to and from medical appointments.
  • Uber maintains a policy that service animals should be accommodated as required by applicable laws.

 

None of those points touch on wheelchair accessible cars. Kate Toran, paratransit manager for the SFMTA, analyzed the disability-access proposals of the rideshare companies, reaching much the same conclusion.

“Simply adding a feature to an app that allows a rider to request a wheelchair accessible vehicle will be meaningless unless there are vehicles in the fleet and properly trained drivers,” she said.

Marzia Zafar said that as far as the CPUC is concerned, there isn’t enough data at this point to say why the disabled community isn’t riding taxis as often as they did before, despite the SFMTA’s presentation. 

“The commission will step in once we have information, verifiable information, that there’s a divide between the disabled and abled community,” she said. “If there is such discrimination (on part of the TNCs), we will step in and bridge that divide.”

Comments

costs of providing services.

Moving disabled people around is extremely expensive. But if the government thinks that is important then they should fund it or, rather, ask the voters if they want to fund it..

And the costs aren't just in all the special equipment. When a Muni buses dwells for 10 minutes for a disabled person to get on and off, and there are 100 people on that bus, then that is 1,000 man-minutes of time and labor lost. Cost of that at the average SF salary? About $666.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

Actually, not providing access for disabled Americans is ride-share companies trying to externalize the costs of providing services by pushing those costs off onto taxpayers.

Posted by bassguitarhero on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

private individuals. It's easy to demand anything if you don't have to pay for it.

I'd like to see a system where the government cannot pass a law without identifying how it will pay for it AND with zero ability to merely shove that onto individuals unless we get to vote on it.

I'm fine with provisions for the disabled but pretending that it is free isn't realistic.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

to pay the costs of laws, it is the responsibility of the business that seeks to profit that must pay the costs as part of their business. This is why we have laws that make it illegal to discriminate - because businesses would simply choose to discriminate against customers who may not be as profitable.

If Uber et al want to be profitable, they can figure out how to serve the needs of Americans without discriminating while providing their services. If they cannot figure out how to maintain a profit without discriminating, they should not be in business.

Posted by bassguitarhero on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

only be funded by citizens.

What should happen is that no law is passed without the funding being fully identified AND the voters agreeing to pay more in taxes to cover it.

If we had that system. we would see far fewer confiscatory laws and a much more vibrant economy.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

The government passes laws to ensure the safety and well-being of a majority of its citizens. If a business wants to offer a service, it is not allowed to discriminate on basis of race, age, sex, orientation or ability.

Requiring companies that offer rides in exchange for money to offer that service to *all* Americans regardless of a disability falls under that, and these laws were passed before Uber et al existed. The companies knew about these laws when they formed and simply chose to ignore them - now the government is saying they cannot ignore them.

You don't get an extra pat on the back for not discriminating against a customer base. The constitution is there to guarantee that we all get access to the same services without discrimination. If you want to be in business, then you have to follow those laws.

Posted by bassguitarhero on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 3:13 pm

activists. I can legally discriminate against fat people, short people, people with green eyes, and people who work in a particular job because none of those groups are designated as protected.

I have no issue with the government passing laws but they should compensate businesses who are disadvantaged as a result. Forcing a cab company to have a fleet of vehicles just in case one day a disabled person wants one is a projection of public costs onto a private entity. And we should get to vote on that.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 3:31 pm

The politicians you vote for are the ones who pass the laws. You had a vote. You lost.

Governments should not compensate companies for the cost of legally doing business.

Posted by bassguitarhero on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 3:41 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 4:10 pm

I claimed you had a vote on it. And you did. And you do, every 2 years. If you and those who hate the ADA cannot seem to vote in politicians that are willing to repeal it, then you have lost on your issue. The law is the law, regardless of whether or not you "support" it.

Posted by bassguitarhero on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

and are comical.

Posted by guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

Guest, I hope that you are disabled one day and have to deal with limited transportation options. You can sit home alone and wonder how you ended up being such a self centered asshole.

Posted by Oliver on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 10:36 am

But there has to be a practical limit on the extent to which a government can externalize the potentially unlimited expense of giving the disabled a fleet of vehicles available on demand.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

Disabled people don't "deserve a break." They deserve to fully participate in society, including through full access to transit. The ADA is civil rights legislation. Would you repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964 until black people figure out how they are going to pay for it?

Posted by Oliver on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 12:18 pm

Which always begs the question of who will pay and will the voters support it.

Externalizing the cost of idealistic social programs has practical limits.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

So the ADA and the Civil Rights Act are "idealistic social programs?" You'd be fine if they were overturned? No great loss if disabled people and minorities have no access to education, health care, jobs....as long as you get yours, right?

Posted by Oliver on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

The question is always how much equality can we afford? The voters decide.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

I would LOVE to know your name.

Posted by Shannon on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 2:05 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

Well, that's the name on my EBT card!

Posted by Shannon on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

If you want everyone here uniquely identified, you go first.

EBT huh?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

Ah, I'm just poking the troll is all. No hard feelings. I know you couldn't really be that much of a heartless retrograde asshole.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 8:32 pm

onto their victims, private auto insurance consumers and taxpayers. Their fake cabs are running around with invalid non-commercial insurance. In the New Year's eve fatality accident in San Francisco, Uber refuses to compensate the family their driver ran over. The driver's insurance won't pay because the non-commercial policy excludes coverage for a taxi operation.

http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2014/01/20/ride-sharing-insurance-lyft-ube...

Unlike taxis which pay thousands in licensing fees to San Francisco, the TNCs are paying nothing for their heavy use of the city's streets.

Insurance fraud and regulatory arbitrage - the dirty secret of the TNC's success.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 6:40 am

own behavior. Pushing costs onto businesses just means higher prices for everyone.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 7:50 am

to not be able to pay for being run over by UberX.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 9:57 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 16, 2014 @ 10:15 am

its seems.

Bars are discriminating against because they won't serve alcoholics free beer.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

now everyone wants to be a victim so that everyone can suck at the government's teat.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

about their customers they never would have created the opening that companies like Lyft and Uber have been so willing to exploit. They only have themselves to blame.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

Just because cabs suck, it doesn't give Uber, Lyft et al permission to break the law.

Posted by bassguitarhero on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

Stating something over and over and over doesn't make it true. This is not Alice in Wonderland.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 4:27 pm

Here are just a few laws being broken:

Title 49 USC 13102
California Public Utilities Code Section: 103301.5 , 103301.6
California / Public Utilities Code - PUC / CHAPTER 2. Definitions [103010. - 103022.] / Section 103022., 5413.5(b)
Calif Gov Code: 53075.9
California Business and Professions Codes (too numerous)
California Insurance Regulations (too numerous)
San Francisco Transportation Code 1105(a)1
California Vehicle Codes (longest list of them all)
ADA

So how are they legal? Because the least effective public agency in the state said they could apply for a permit that violates all the above laws and both the US and CA constitutions... Riiiiigght... Legal.... get your head out of your ass.

Posted by Mrjhnsn on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

The voters indirectly decide enforcement priorities and stuff like this isn't a priority to most voters

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

So you are ok with someone opening up a business in front of yours, selling the exact same stuff you sell for half the price, without all the licenses you paid for, without the rent you pay, and without following the laws you have to follow because you think voters don't care about enforcing laws that could prevent that?...

Why don't you actually read through some of the laws I have cited? Most of them have nothing to do with taxis. These are laws about the disabled, vehicle registration, insurance, fair business, false advertising, labor laws... and more.

By your logic its ok to violate 20+ laws because in your opinion no one cares about those laws anyway. Laws that if they didn't exist all businesses and consumers would be getting screwed at every turn.

Get a clue, go back to school, or try and open up a doctor's office without a license and insurance, see how far that gets you.

Posted by Mrjhnsn on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 4:11 pm

If there is a can company that dont take disabled folks and they are cheaper, then why not?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 4:34 pm

Being opposed to monopolies is a good thing actually, lots of people across the spectrum are opposed to monopolies.

To be a monopoly a company has to be in cahoots with the government, the government that progressives hate but want to take over and force onto people.

A few people come up with a way to bust the government/cab company monopoly and what do our progressives do? They whine, "continue the monopoly of high prices and terrible service" they say, "continue the cab companies and government colluding to screw the average customer" they shout and moan.

Posted by guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 5:02 pm

Muni, water, planning, SFUSD are all monopolies.

And the cabs of course

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 7:51 am

Taxis are in no way shape or form a monopoly. Each taxi driver is a small business. Each taxi company is a small business (usually employing less than 50 ppl) that started as a cab driver with his cab. Most of you taxi haters are drinking the kool aid about the taxi industry and not even knowing that EVERYTHING you are saying is false. Yes, there are service issues but those generally have nothing to do with the regulation, other than the fact that each taxi is its own business. Oh wait if thats the problem how do we fix that? Make cabbies employees and make the cab companies a govt sanctioned monopoly.... oh right you don't like monopolies and would like small business to succeed.... hmm sounds like you can't have your cake and eat it too...

The regulation of the taxi industry is for EVERYONE's protection. Not just the riders, not just the drivers, but the public as a whole. However the regulations certainly do not benefit the cab companies.

BTW: YOU are not the cab companies' customer, the cab driver is.

Leave the transportation business to the people that know it best.
The TNCs are nothing more than techno-gypsy cabs, putting EVERYONE at risk.

Posted by Mrjhnsn on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

is a monopoly. The fact that the monopoly takes the form of an alliance of self-employer owner-drivers is irrelevant.

Now, if there were also red cabs and blue cabs and orange cabs, you might have a point. But there are not.

I want to see genuine competition, and that means different price points for different levels of service and insurance.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

In SF there are something like 25 different color schemes (cab companies) and they are ALL small businesses. They don't get a "pass" from the govt to "monopolize" for hire transportation.
Even in NYC where all the cabs are required by law to be painted yellow the business is still not a monopoly, because there are hundreds of cab companies and close to 75k active taxi licenses. thats over 75k small businesses..... NOT a monopoly.

this isn't like your cable company... or your utility provider.
(cable tv is a monopoly that MUST be busted)

You have a choice of which available cab or cab company you want to take. You can also choose to walk, ride a bike or take the bus. You don't have to hire a car, you just choose to. Thats your levels of service right there.

The prices are regulated by the city to prevent price gouging (surge pricing) as that practice has shown to negatively impact the consumer in EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE of deregulation of the taxi industry in any city this was tried. In the ONLY city in California where the industry is deregulated the prices are still set by regulation.

The industry standards for insurance bear nothing on the price and shouldn't either. If a poor person uses Lyft because its cheaper they should not have to agree to risk their financial future to save 2 bucks. Premium service at premium prices is fine however Lyft and UberX et al are NOT premium services. They are just taxis without the licenses, insurance and safety regulations. Regulations that took a free for all business and standardized fares, vehicles, service areas, driver standards, and insurance levels. These regulations were not some arbitrary set of rules concocted to keep lawful competition out, and passed into law. These regulations are the fine tuned result of over 400 years of regulation.

Taxis have the legal and lawful right to on-demand transportation for hire worldwide. There is a reason they are called Taxis everywhere you go in the world.

Do your homework before you open your mouth.

Posted by Mrjhnsn on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

have the choice that I want. I want both regulated and unregulated cars, so I can decide how much risk i want to take for a saving

I dont need your poxy insurance and regulation because i have my own

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

So you have insurance that will cover anything and everything? Thats pretty awesome... Who is your agent, because I would love insurance like that.

Sorry dude... wrong again. The regulation is not for you to decide if you want it or not. Its there to protect those who may not have the wherewithal to risk their financial future to save a buck. You don't need to agree to TOS saying you will not hold the taxi company and driver liable should something happen to you while on the ride. Just because you are ok with signing away your constitutional rights to save a few bucks and have some dummy give you a ride without proper insurance does not mean the public at large is ok with that. The, "regulations don't exist for pompous asses" that are "too intelligent to need regulations" theory does not cover even a quarter of the population. SO if you want to put your life in the hands of a greedy corporate entity that disclaims all responsibility for what happens to you while using their illegal, unlicensed and uninsured service, by all means please do. We will do fine without you. Just don't be surprised when it takes 3 hours for a ramp taxi to come pick up your broke paraplegic ass from dialysis twice a day for the rest of your life. $2 is worth saving.

Posted by Mrjhnsn on Apr. 10, 2014 @ 9:19 pm

In SF there are something like 25 different color schemes (cab companies) and they are ALL small businesses. They don't get a "pass" from the govt to "monopolize" for hire transportation.
Even in NYC where all the cabs are required by law to be painted yellow the business is still not a monopoly, because there are hundreds of cab companies and close to 75k active taxi licenses. thats over 75k small businesses..... NOT a monopoly.

this isn't like your cable company... or your utility provider.
(cable tv is a monopoly that MUST be busted)

You have a choice of which available cab or cab company you want to take. You can also choose to walk, ride a bike or take the bus. You don't have to hire a car, you just choose to. Thats your levels of service right there.

The prices are regulated by the city to prevent price gouging (surge pricing) as that practice has shown to negatively impact the consumer in EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE of deregulation of the taxi industry in any city this was tried. In the ONLY city in California where the industry is deregulated the prices are still set by regulation.

The industry standards for insurance bear nothing on the price and shouldn't either. If a poor person uses Lyft because its cheaper they should not have to agree to risk their financial future to save 2 bucks. Premium service at premium prices is fine however Lyft and UberX et al are NOT premium services. They are just taxis without the licenses, insurance and safety regulations. Regulations that took a free for all business and standardized fares, vehicles, service areas, driver standards, and insurance levels. These regulations were not some arbitrary set of rules concocted to keep lawful competition out, and passed into law. These regulations are the fine tuned result of over 400 years of regulation.

Taxis have the legal and lawful right to on-demand transportation for hire worldwide. There is a reason they are called Taxis everywhere you go in the world.

Do your homework before you open your mouth.

Posted by Mrjhnsn on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 4:00 pm

In SF there are something like 25 different color schemes (cab companies) and they are ALL small businesses. They don't get a "pass" from the govt to "monopolize" for hire transportation.
Even in NYC where all the cabs are required by law to be painted yellow the business is still not a monopoly, because there are hundreds of cab companies and close to 75k active taxi licenses. thats over 75k small businesses..... NOT a monopoly.

this isn't like your cable company... or your utility provider.
(cable tv is a monopoly that MUST be busted)

You have a choice of which available cab or cab company you want to take. You can also choose to walk, ride a bike or take the bus. You don't have to hire a car, you just choose to. Thats your levels of service right there.

The prices are regulated by the city to prevent price gouging (surge pricing) as that practice has shown to negatively impact the consumer in EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE of deregulation of the taxi industry in any city this was tried. In the ONLY city in California where the industry is deregulated the prices are still set by regulation.

The industry standards for insurance bear nothing on the price and shouldn't either. If a poor person uses Lyft because its cheaper they should not have to agree to risk their financial future to save 2 bucks. Premium service at premium prices is fine however Lyft and UberX et al are NOT premium services. They are just taxis without the licenses, insurance and safety regulations. Regulations that took a free for all business and standardized fares, vehicles, service areas, driver standards, and insurance levels. These regulations were not some arbitrary set of rules concocted to keep lawful competition out, and passed into law. These regulations are the fine tuned result of over 400 years of regulation.

Taxis have the legal and lawful right to on-demand transportation for hire worldwide. There is a reason they are called Taxis everywhere you go in the world.

Do your homework before you open your mouth.

Sincerely,
An actual expert on the industry.

Posted by Mrjhnsn on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

Marzia's claim that the PUC needs "data" before they can determine whether there is less accessible taxi service is bullshit. If no one is driving the vehicles, they are not available to transport passengers. What more do they need? Given that the PUC's reputation was irreparably damaged after the San Bruno pipeline disaster, you'd think they'd try to manage this issue properly. I had enough of Marzia's ignorance and hostility at the Board hearing to know she is absolutely the wrong person to be the face of the PUC on this issue. She should be fired as she is clearly incompetent.

Posted by Shannon on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 2:04 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

I repeat, what more evidence do they need than the data and the MTA have provided? What more evidence than the fact that ZERO accessible cabs are being operated by TNC's? What bias is there aside from your bias against disabled people and their civil rights protections?

Posted by Shannon on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 3:44 pm

person. My question was who you think should pay for that.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

Guest = a PUC employee. Marzia? Is that you???

Posted by jbaker on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 3:47 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

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