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Disabled Community Weighs In On Ridesharing

Activists handed out leaflets explaining they in fact welcome more transportation options, as long as they are accessible to members of the public.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Activists handed out leaflets explaining they in fact welcome more transportation options, as long as they are accessible to members of the public.

Legalizing apps like Uber and Lyft upstate is one of the big issues awaiting New York state legislators when they return to Albany next week. Advocates for the disabled support ridesharing expansion, as long as there is accessible transportation.

Activists were present and vocal Wednesday in Albany's City Hall rotunda, where local and state officials, business groups and members of law enforcement gathered in support of expanding ridesharing upstate next year.

Assemblywoman Pat Fahy says a bill to allow ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to operate will be a top priority when the next legislative session begins in January. She addressed the disabled community:  "We've made some accommodations, as have some of the ridesharing companies. I'm a co-sponsor of legislation that would address more of those needs. But it is expensive, and we've got to find some funding on that as well."

Activists handed out leaflets explaining they in fact welcome more transportation options, as long as they are accessible to members of the public.  Gregg Beratan is a policy analyst with the Center For Disabilty Rights.  "Politicians are pushing a ride-sharing app right now that actively contributes to the discrimination against disabled people. The fact is that they're not willing to provide half the effort to promote accessible transportation as they are to promote this cash cow that they seem to think will do everything but."

A draft bill that surfaced earlier this month touched on provisions related to disabled accessibility which would have held ridesharing companies responsible to create general policy for providing accessible rides.

Many disabled individuals in the Capital Region rely on user-friendly buses and taxicabs to get around.

Lawmakers and other officials, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan among them, insist allowing ridesharing upstate would not jeopardize the taxi industry, its drivers or regular riders.    "This isn't about replacing anything. It's about adding a mode of transportation that is used across the country to spur economic development and to allow for more options in our community."

Clifton Perez, the systems advocate for the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley, says unless steps are taken now to ensure accessibility, changes down the road will be more costly, and will fall on taxpayers.   "Right now, we're talkin' about a company that has over $62 billion worth of money they can sure as heck provide more accessibility than they're doing. And in fact, they're having a pilot program in Philadelphia, where they're leasing vehicles that are accessible to provide wheelchair-accessible rides for people who want Uber."

Beratan added:   "Uber and Lyft have shown a long history of discriminating against disabled people going as far back to say the ADA doesn't apply to them, which is ridiculous, but that's their argument."

Uber sent a prepared statement to WAMC, saying it is committed to making the app accessible for everyone. The company adds: “We are constantly innovating and exploring new ways to better serve all people with disabilities and, in fact, Uber has been commended by members of the disability community for increasing the freedom and mobility of riders and drivers with disabilities.”

Troy City Council President Carmella Mantello joined other officials sponsoring a resolution requesting state lawmakers support expanding ridesharing, including disabled-accessible rides.    "I'm a mom of a disabled child and we're very sensitive that the disabled community should also be privy to Uber and Lyft, and we're hoping that the New York state legislature addresses these issues with the developmentally disabled community, and additionally they add fingerprinting and other safeguards that should be added to ensure public safety."
There's also been a call to create a task force to study transportation services available to the disabled that would advise the governor and state lawmakers in advance of allowing Uber and Lyft to operate upstate.

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