Transit systems eye Uber, Lyft for savings on the disabled

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 6:38 PM

S. transit systems looking to defray costs of providing services for the disabled are weighing partnerships with Uber and Lyft, unsettling some advocates who note that ride-hailing services have themselves faced criticism over accessibility.

Transit systems eye Uber, Lyft for savings on the disabled

Several U. S. transit systems looking to defray costs of providing services for the disabled are weighing partnerships with Uber and Lyft, unsettling some advocates who note that ride-hailing services have themselves faced criticism over accessibility.

Paratransit, better known below names love "The Ride," "Access-a-Ride," or "Dial-a-Ride," is required below the one thousand nine hundred ninety Americans with Disabilities Act. But the costs, which comprise door-to-door pickup and drop-off, can be steep.

The average cost of operating a single paratransit ride is about $23 in the U. S., compared with less than $4 for the average ride on bus or light rail. In Boston, the average cost per ride is about $45, in Washington, about $50, and in New York, nearly $57, officials said.

Transit agencies nationwide logged about two hundred twenty-three million paratransit trips at a cost exceeding $5.1 billion — about twelve % of total transit operating costs — in two thousand-thirteenth, according to the most recent data from the American Public Transportation Association. The price tag is particularly high in major cities, where agencies struggle with regular service and maintenance.

"I realize there are budget concerns. But for me this is a quality-of-life issue," said Sarah Kaplan, thirty-two, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. She rides a vehicle operated by the MA Bay Transportation Authority to obtain to and from her work as internship coordinator with the Boston Middle for Independent Living.

"I wish the right to leave my house love everyone else," Kaplan said.

In two thousand-twelfth, the MBTA doubled fares from $2 to $4 for The Ride, triggering protests; several people chained their wheelchairs together and blocked traffic. Fares were later rolled back to $3 for most rides.

The deficit-ridden agency presently hopes to slice million in annual paratransit costs by expanding an existing taxi voucher system and contracting with ride-hailing services.

The plan, not yet finalized, would charge customers $2 per ride, while the MBTA contributes up to $13 for the trip. If a ride costs more than $15, the passenger would pay the difference.

A potential incentive for riders: Uber or Lyft can be summoned immediately with an app; trips on MBTA vehicles should be scheduled a day ahead.

"My guess is it'll be very appealing to people who necessity to go shorter distances where the fares are below and they can obtain an on-demand ride as opposed to booking twenty-four hours in advance," said Brian Shortsleeve, the agency'south chief administrator.

But convenience comes with a catch.

With a Ltd no of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, the ride-hailing services would be available largely to people who can walk. And while a majority of individuals certified to utilize paratransit fit that bill, advocates worry about creating an unfair and possibly even illegal two-tiered system for the disabled — one serving people who can walk, the other those whose needs the private vehicles can't accommodate.

"We don't wish racial segregation, and we also don't wish disability segregation," said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst for the California-based Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.

Uber and Lyft have both cited efforts to make better offerings for disabled riders. But the services have argued they're technology, not transportation, companies, meaning they're not required to allow accessible vehicles. Advocates for the disabled have filed a handful of lawsuits.

In January, a coalition including disability rights groups and work unions wrote to the WA Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, known as Metro, expressing alarm over the agency'south interest in contracting with companies such as Uber or Lyft.

"This is of grave concern to our coalition for many reasons, most importantly because neither company has adequate access to wheelchair accessible vehicles," the letter stated. Passenger safety and inadequate driver training were also cited as concerns, though activists did applaud Metro for seeking alternative forms of transportation.

The system already supplements its MetroAccess service with alternatives such as Transport DC, which offers $5 taxi rides to the disabled, including wheelchair-accessible cabs.

Metro hopes to solicit formal proposals from ride-sharing companies this summer but will pay concerned attention to how such a program is structured, said Christian Kent, helper manager of access services.

Pace, which operates the Chicago-area paratransit system, has had preliminary meetings with Uber and Lyft, said agency spokesman Doug Sullivan. He cited as a potential barrier the strict federal guidelines that drivers for Pace — or any company below contract with Pace — should meet for training, and drug and alcohol testing.

A spokesman for New York'south Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation'south largest transit system, declined to declare whether it'd reached out to ride-hailing services but did declare number agreements were in place.

The San Francisco Examiner reported latest year that Uber was in talks to get over that city'south paratransit system, something that didn't arrive to pass.

Uber didn't allow details of current paratransit proposals, but the company has pointed to disability outreach efforts such as UberACCESS that connects riders with wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

In a statement, Lyft said it's been in discussions with transit executive in Boston and was monitoring developments in WA with the hope of participating in paratransit programs in both cities. The company also said it was working to accommodate people with disabilities, citing a recent partnership with the National Federation of the Blind.

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