Q. I recently heard of an opportunity to make some extra money, but don’t know if it is a good idea for me. A friend was contacted by a smartphone-based ridesharing service that proposes introducing accessibility to their business, and I may be interested in participating, but I have questions.
Apparently the plan is to have people who own accessible vehicles drive their personal vans on behalf of the company. Sounds good, as I am a power chair user and own a wheelchair van. My wife normally drives with me riding in my wheelchair. During the day, while I am at work, the van sits idle. It makes sense to have her haul paying passengers who use mobility devices when she and the van are not busy. Private wheelchair transport services are expensive, taxicab companies have limited or no accessible vehicles and our local paratransit service is frustrating for riders who need to get somewhere on short notice.
How do rideshare services work now, and how would I get paid? If this is a valid means of bringing home some extra income, are there factors I should consider before pursuing this opportunity?
— Looking forward to your answers
A. Rideshare companies like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar allow passengers to request a ride, usually via smartphone, and a driver then picks them up in his or her own vehicle. In most cases, payment is made directly to the rideshare companies using a credit card that remains on file when riders sign up for the services. Drivers do not need to handle cash or credit cards, as their pay is received in checks or direct deposits from the company. They also receive a Form 1099 for tax reporting purposes at the end of the year.
The battles between taxis and ridesharing services have resulted in increasing media coverage during the past few years. Taxicab companies have become firmly established in most cities, and many have received exclusive contracts. Some municipalities have established regulations that provide protection for current taxi companies, such as restricting the number of rideshare drivers who can be available during certain times. Despite these obstacles, ridesharing services are steadily gaining ground.
Many taxicab companies have done a very poor job when it comes to providing service to people who use mobility devices of all types. Rideshare companies offering such services is a positive development that may spur taxi services to do the same. Some are already beginning to include smartphones and electronic payment systems in their services to compete with ridesharing.
The State of California Public Utility Commission established regulations covering rideshare companies, including a special license for drivers who must first pass a criminal background check. Other states will likely consider similar statewide guidelines as these services grow, rather than have differing rules in every city.
Rideshare companies only make money if they have sufficient drivers available to meet customer demand. If you or a household member has an accessible vehicle, you can probably sign up to be a rideshare driver, which would include hauling customers who may not even need a wheelchair van.
According to my research, there is a requirement that the rideshare vehicle has seating for four passengers, meaning seat belts must be in place for those four. Hauling someone in a wheelchair means tie-down straps must be used. Some auto insurance policies cover vehicles driven for rideshare purposes, so check with your insurance agent. Uber and Lyft provide commercial insurance coverage that supercedes your personal coverage once you have accepted or are driving a client. They also provide contingent coverage for drivers using their apps to connect with passengers (the app must be turned on).
Some of the benefits of driving a rideshare vehicle include flexible hours, the security of a system that identifies passengers and tracks the vehicle in the event of trouble, and payment in a reasonable time frame. If making too much income would jeopardize benefits, like healthcare coverage, you might simply work fewer hours; you set your own schedule. Work incentive programs like the Social Security Administration’s Plan to Achieve Self-Support may also provide enough flexibility to allow accumulation of savings and a pathway to continue working for the benefit of yourself and your family.
Good luck if you decide to pursue this opportunity.