Blog Post 41: Uber Finally Following ADA Requirements

By Christine Sara Varghese

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits private transportation companies from denying disabled individuals of transportation services.[1] Over the past few months the popular ride-sharing company, Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”), has been hit with a series of lawsuits accusing the company of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. In Texas, three disabled individuals filed a federal complaint after Uber drivers refused to provide them service.[2] In California, the National Federation of the Blind of California sued Uber after drivers denied service to customers with guide dogs.[3] In late July of this year, activists protested, claiming that the company does not do enough to make its service accessible to customers with wheelchairs in New York City.[4]

Ride-sharing services, such as Uber, have revolutionized the private transportation market by allowing customers to use their smartphone to locate, schedule and pay for their travel. With niche markets such as the ridesharing business, it is difficult for courts to address which federal regulations apply to ridesharing companies and which do not. Uber is in the vehicle-for-hire market. Customers enter into contract and business relationships whereby Uber transports the consumers to their desired locations and the consumers agree to pay for the services with a credit card via their smartphone.  Activists argue Uber is significantly similar to private taxi companies which are required by Title III of the ADA to provide readily accessible vehicles for individuals with disabilities. [5] In New York, California, and Texas, disability-rights groups argue that Uber is analogous to private taxi services, so Uber cannot discriminate under the ADA.[6] Uber argues that as a technology company, it is not subject to laws regulating public transit and other transportation providers.[7] Uber firmly holds the position that it is a business that connects drivers with riders. The Justice Department has sided with the plaintiffs in most of these cases, thus sparking a response from Uber. [8] The Department of Justice noted that while an entity may contract out its service, it may not contract away its ADA responsibilities.”[9]

In response to the wave of lawsuits, Uber created UberASSIST, which works with third party companies to provide riders with vehicles that can accommodate folding wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters.[10] Many are calling this the first step in rectifying the problems of Uber violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, but they say that Uber should properly train its drivers to deal with these situations.[11] While UberASSIST is only available in a few major cities now, public opinion should pressure Uber into expanding UberASSIST quickly to other cities. The Uber issue is a classic example of how public opinion and legal actions can bring powerful companies to follow federal regulations. While it is upsetting to see that acts of discrimination still occur, it is imperative that individuals keep fighting to ensure that their rights are not trampled on.

[1] 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189.

[2] See Ramos, et al v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Case No. 5:14-cv-00502-xr (2015).

[3] See Nat’l Fed’n of the Blind of Cal., et al v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Case No. 3:14-cv-4086 (2014).

[4] See Dan Rivoli, Disability rights activist protest at Uber’s NYC offices for failing to put accessible cars in its fleet, (July 30, 2015), http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/disability-activists-protest-uber-no-accessible-cars-article-1.2310146.

[5] See also 49 CFR § 37.29 (“Providers of taxi service are subject to the requirements of [the transportation and related provisions of Titles II and III of the ADA].”)

[6] See id.; see Ramos, et al v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Case No. 5:14-cv-00502-xr (2015); see Nat’l Fed’n of the Blind of Cal., et al v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Case No. 3:14-cv-4086 (2014).

[7] See Nat’l Fed’n of the Blind of Cal., et al v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Case No. 3:14-cv-4086 (2014).

[8]See Bob Egelko, Obama Administration Takes Sides in Disability Suit against Uber, Sf Gate, (Dec. 23, 2014), http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Obama-administration-takes-sides-in-disability-5976148.php.

[9] See Statement of Interest of the United States of America at 5, Nat’l Fed’n of the Blind of Cal. v Uber Technologies, Inc., (2014)(No. 3:14-cv-4086).

[10] See Lucy, Introducing Uber Assist, Uber, (July 24, 2015), https://newsroom.uber.com/la/2015/07/introducing-uberassist-la/.

[11] See Salvador Rodriguez, For Uber, Lyft Riders with Disabilities, Discrimination Often Comes Included, International Business Times, (Aug. 13, 2015), http://www.ibtimes.com/uber-lyft-riders-disabilities-discrimination-often-comes-included-2052675.