SAN FRANCISCO — Two disability rights attorneys in the Bay Area are investigating a “significant” number of claims that drivers for the ride share company, Uber, are refusing to pick up blind passengers with service dogs.
Timothy Elder, attorney with TRE Legal Practice, is one of the attorneys looking into Uber’s practices. “It’s pretty clear this is well beyond one rogue driver,” Elder said. “This is a systemic problem.”
Uber uses a smart phone app to allow passengers to act as their own dispatchers.
San Francisco resident Jonathan Lyens says the first time he called for a ride, “It showed up and the driver got out and told me he was going to make an exception for me, but told me he didn’t normally take dogs.”
Lyens said his next Uber experience was worse. “I got a text saying, ‘We’re sorry, your driver had to cancel the ride.'” He said that text came as he was waiting on the sidewalk with his service dog, Benito. “As I’m reading this, I heard a car start up and drive away, and I knew full well in my mind that it was the Uber driver, seeing me with my guide dog, driving away, choosing not to serve me.”
Lyens said, his eyes getting teary, “It’s almost a twist in the gut to know that you’re being discriminated against for being who you are.”
Uber drivers use their personal vehicles to offer public rides and that’s where there seems to be some gray area.
Michael Nunez, attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, says Uber should be subject to the same regulations as a bus or taxi. “As a transportation provider, Uber and other public transportation providers are required to provide equal access to people with disabilities,” Nunez explained.
“We’re not asking for anything major here. We want to be their customer,” Lyens said. “We want to give them our money, and in order to do that, we need to get inside the car.”
Late Monday afternoon, Uber released the following statement to KTVU regarding the refusal of service claims: “Uber will deactivate driver partners from the Uber platform who refuse to transport a rider with a service animal. Uber welcomes service animals and we are proud that our platform increases the mobility and freedom of blind and vision-impaired users.