Uber, the largest ride-hailing service in the U.S., announced on Nov. 20 that it is partnering with MV Transportation to provide increased wheelchair accessible vehicle service in select cities across the country.
The company claims that the move is providing average wait times of 15 minutes or less for riders who need a WAV vehicle in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Toronto and Washington, D.C., at the same cost as a standard UberX ride. Uber is aiming for similar wait times in San Francisco and Los Angeles over the next year, while expanding the partnership to other major cities.
MV Transportation, which also runs fixed-route bus services and shuttle services, is one of the country’s largest third-party paratransit providers, with an annual revenue of $1.3 billion. All the WAV vehicles added to the Uber platform by MV Transportation will continue to be owned and operated by MV, with drivers who have been trained in wheelchair securement and how to assist passengers with disabilities.
The move to partner with MV brings a much-needed supply of WAV vehicles into the Uber platform, an area in which the company has long fallen short. Uber acknowledged as much when they announced the partnership:
“Because Uber doesn’t own the cars on our platform, historically we’ve relied on people using their own cars to use WAVs on the Uber app, but there simply aren’t enough people who personally own WAVs who also choose to drive with Uber.”
Groups across the country have sued Uber over the disparity between its standard services and its wheelchair accessible services. As the company now seeks to show that it’s taking accessibility seriously, skepticism remains within the disability community.
James Weisman, CEO of United Spinal Association, has spent decades fighting for better accessibility in New York City’s transit system, only to see recent access improvements in the city’s Taxi fleet undercut by the rise of ride-hailing services. “I am not saying it won’t work. In some cities, I’m sure it will,” he says of Uber’s latest accessibility initiative. “But they will only provide accessibility their way, which will differ from city to city.”
This stems from the fact that there is no national regulatory framework for ride hailing services, and Uber and Lyft have been instrumental in getting individual states to pass limited regulations that also preempt local municipalities from adopting more stringent standards — whether for workers’ rights, accessibility or anything else. Forty-one states have passed this type of preemption law. “If localities want to reduce paratransit or Medicaid transportation costs by requiring accessibility in ride hailing services, they cannot,” says Weisman.
Uber’s management appears to understand how fraught its relationship with the disability community is, and claims that the partnership with MV Transportation is just the start of its accessibility expansion. “We’re committed to making accessibility a meaningful part of what we do, and we’re proud to be doing our part to enable improved access to transportation for people with disabilities. We know there is still a long way to go—and that we’re at the beginning, not the end, of this journey,” wrote Uber’s CEO, Dana Khosrowshahi, in a statement.