Disability Rights Advocates, or DRA, filed a class-action lawsuit against Lyft on March 20, alleging that the popular ride-sharing service violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, by not providing a wheelchair accessible vehicle, or WAV, service for Bay Area residents.
DRA, a nonprofit disability rights organization based in California and New York, alleged in the suit that Lyft’s failure to provide WAVs constitutes unequal service for its riders with disabilities. According to DRA attorney Melissa Riess, the situation is compounded by the fact that Lyft has also driven competing taxi companies that once provided WAVs out of the market.
“Their service is basically unusable for people who use wheelchairs and need wheelchair accessible vehicles,” said Riess. “It could be a really important option for people to get around, especially in the Bay Area, which is so car-centric. On behalf of this community, we’ve brought this lawsuit to compel Lyft to fulfill their legal obligations.”
In addition to their current suit against Lyft, DRA filed a similar class action against Uber in October 2018.
Dorene Giacopini, president of the board of directors for Community Resources for Independent Living, which is a plaintiff in the class action, said that transportation services for people with disabilities are going “backwards” in the modern ride-sharing era. Giacopini alleged that the very existence of companies such as Lyft and Uber is causing the “disappearance” of taxis, including WAVs.
Lyft spokesperson Lauren Alexander said in an email that Lyft considers accessibility “broadly” in its services and has entered into partnerships with public transit agencies across the country to create “innovative, on-demand WAV offerings.”
“Lyft is committed to ensuring that those who need rides most are able to get them,” Alexander wrote in an email. “We think about accessibility broadly and know that many who were previously underserved by transit and taxis are now able to rely on Lyft for convenient and affordable rides.”
According to Alexander, riders who need a WAV can select “access mode” within the Lyft app to be connected to a list of WAV providers. The providers, which are grouped by area, include options such as East Bay Paratransit, private WAV providers and public transit options.
DRA’s suit, however, claims that this service is not comparable to those offered to other users. To use Paratransit, for example, one must meet eligibility requirements and fill out an application, according to Riess. She added that even if a customer meets these requirements Paratransit rides must be scheduled at least a day in advance.
In court documents, DRA also alleged that Paratransit services can be late, even when scheduled up to two hours in advance.
“You need to schedule (Paratransit rides) a day in advance,” Riess said. “It’s not like you can say, ‘Oh there’s not a WAV Lyft available, I’ll schedule a paratransit.’”
Berkeley District 4 Councilmember Kate Harrison said that in addition to not providing services for customers with disabilities, Lyft and other ride-sharing companies also impact alternate public transit options available to those users. Harrison said that ride-sharing services draw passengers away from public transit systems and often disrupt bus routes by pulling over at bus stops.
“My own mother… can’t take Lyft because they won’t take her wheelchair,” Harrison said. “They’re negatively impacting seniors and the disabled (and) they’re impacting our bus service.”
Harrison added that she is currently looking into implementing a local tax on ride-sharing companies to support public transit systems.