Boston – Ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft were at the center of a recent State House hearing. With passions riding high on both sides, State Senator Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, says he wants to make sure the needs of people with disabilities aren’t left out of the conversation.
While the packed auditorium — Uber drivers in a sea of blue, cabbies in all yellow — heard primarily about issues related to public safety and insurance, Barrett told the Committee on Financial Services this is a “golden opportunity” to make on-call transportation for people with disabilities “convenient and affordable.”
Barrett says his office has been contacted by someone turned down by a ride-hailing service after the driver noticed her seeing-eye dog. Across the country, plaintiffs have said they’ve been denied a ride due to their wheelchairs. In one case, a driver even packed a blind individual’s service dog in the trunk.
In response, Barrett proposes several fixes. He wants the bill to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Uber maintains the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply to it. Barrett responds that the bill “could be amended to simply parallel the basic protections found in the ADA.”
Senator Barrett also wants special attention paid to the transportation of people needing wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs). He points out that the availability of WAVs is a problem that extends beyond the new ride-hailing apps. It’s already difficult to get a wheelchair accessible taxi in Boston.
Barrett urges a holistic approach. He proposes the formation of a special commission that includes disability advocates, state officials, representatives of regional transit authority services such as the Ride, transportation management associations like the 128 Business Council, and ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.
“Tweaks and improvements to all types of service should be on the table,” Barrett said. “The tech community should be challenged to apply its best thinking to the problem. Then we’ll get somewhere.”