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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is reportedly working to implement S.B. 1376, a 2018 bill that requires ride-hailing companies to make rides on their apps more readily available to wheelchair riders. The bill asked the CPUC to create a new “Access for All Fund,” which would be distributed to all ride-hail companies, like Uber and Lyft, to help them make necessary investments to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs).
The CPUC is the agency responsible for regulating commercial service vehicles, including ride-hailing companies, limos, and employer-provided shuttles. In June 2019, the CPUC approved a fee of ten cents per ride-hailing trip to support the Access for All Fund. A more recent CPUC decision from Mar. addressed several outstanding key issues, which StreetsBlog outlined as follows:
The CPUC has offered ride-hailing companies more money from the Access for All Fund to further improve WAV services under certain conditions. In its Mar. decision, the CPUC decided that in order to qualify for extra money, ride-hailing companies must both meet the higher standards of service that qualify them for exemptions on fees and must be using the fees they collect from riders to improve WAV services further. Also, all ride-hailing companies can apply for money from the Access for All Fund even if they don’t yet have WAV services in a given area, and it is considering creating new rules for smaller companies.
In the Mar. decision, the CPUC decided that consideration of WAVs shouldn’t exclude the needs of people with other disabilities, such as vision impairments, but it would leave further discussion of those issues to the future. Consistent with existing laws, it defined wheelchair-accessible vehicles narrowly, as having a “ramp or lift.”
Though not an issue about wheelchair accessibility, Uber was recently ordered to pay $1.1 million in damages to a blind passenger after an independent arbitrator ruled that the company’s drivers discriminated against her after refusing her rides on 14 separate occasions.
Uber had rejected the claims, insisting that its drivers are “expected to serve riders with service animals and comply with accessibility.” Even Uber’s Help page states that service animals are permitted to accompany riders at all times, and drivers can only choose whether or not to allow the animal in their vehicle when it’s a pet. But the arbitrator found that was not the case. In fact, the investigation suggested that drivers were coached in ways to deny rides that would circumvent the ADA.
The arbitrator ruled that Uber was liable for violations of the ADA because of its “contractual supervision over its drivers and for its failure to prevent discrimination by properly training its drivers.” The arbitrator reportedly awarded the plaintiff $324,000 in damages, with the rest ($805,313) going to legal costs, including attorney fees.