- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Some New Yorkers in wheelchairs and their advocates fear the new era of ride-hailing services will mainly leave them on the curb.

They’re pushing for legislation to ensure services like Uber will have more wheelchair-accessible vehicles. In a letter Tuesday to the 213 state legislators, they said pending bills to regulate transportation network companies need to protect their rights with for-hire ride services under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“While bills prohibit (transportation network companies) from imposing additional charges for providing services to people with physical or mental disabilities, there is no provision that explicitly requires a TNC to provide equivalent service to all passengers regardless of disability status,” wrote James Weisman, executive vice president and general counsel of the United Spinal Association. “Equivalent service means safe service too. Just because someone is disabled doesn’t mean they have to ride in a less safe or less dignified manner.”

City officials say there are now more Uber-affiliated cars on New York’s roads than yellow taxis. The ride-hailing service, which recently marked its fourth anniversary there, so far lists no other cities statewide among hundreds nationally and globally where it now operates. Another service, Lyft, also lists only New York City as its service area in the state.

Uber said it already accommodates those riders in collaboration with the green taxis that serve northern Manhattan and New York City’s other boroughs, outside the zone reserved for yellow cab street hails. According to the service, it provides about 300 of those trips weekly with an average pickup time of five minutes.

“The Uber app was built to expand access to safe, reliable transportation options for all and we are committed to continuing to build solutions that support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities,” spokesman Matt Wing said. The San Francisco-based company also is looking at ways to expand services for disabled people, he said.

Advocates and people who use wheelchairs said that’s not enough, urging requirements for all taxi services across New York, including areas where Uber, Lyft or other ride-booking services may begin operating.

There are an estimated 90,000 wheelchair users in the city and probably an equivalent number in the rest of the state, according to Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York. Census data show nearly 1.2 million state residents with various ambulatory disabilities.

Edith Prentiss, who uses a motorized wheelchair, heads the Taxis for All Campaign. She said she once waited an hour-and-a-half at Albany’s train station for a 10-minute wheelchair-accessible ride from a taxi company, a ride that had been arranged in advance. Disabled people should have the same freedom as others to go when and where they choose, and when there are enough accessible vehicles, they will, she said.

“Uber should have to do it and so should every other taxi company,” Prentiss said. “We’ve been fighting this for too many years.”

Under current plans, half of the city’s nearly 14,000 yellow taxis will be handicapped-accessible by 2020. The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission requires all for-hire vehicle base stations, including black car and luxury limousines, to provide some. Two years ago, the commission sold 100 pairs of medallions for wheelchair-accessible yellow cabs, which nearly doubled the total.

The city’s buses, as well as trains and certain subway stations, are wheelchair accessible.

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