Jeff Chiu/AP
An Uber driver sits in his car near San Francisco International Airport.

In some cities, Uber adds service for people with wheelchairs

Uber, the rideshare company, launches a fleet of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in London starting Tuesday afternoon. 

An Uber fleet that is (finally) wheelchair-accessible.  

As of Tuesday afternoon, London is the latest of more than 10 cities worldwide with Uber vehicles that can accommodate all wheelchair types, an improvement over only accepting folding wheelchairs.  

Wheelchair-accessibility is one of the rideshare company's programs being unveiled in cities on either side of the Atlantic to expand its services to all customers. The move comes as Uber and competitor Lyft face allegations they have discriminated against people with disabilities, one of a growing list of complaints facing the rideshare companies.   

UberWAV, as the program is called, is "a step in the right direction," Ruth Owen, chief executive of Whizz-Kids, a London-based organization that supports children with disabilities, and one of several British organizations that have applauded Uber, told BBC.  

"This new initiative will give disabled people in London a much-needed additional option for planning their travel across the [nation's] capital." 

Members of the organization test rode the service Tuesday.  

Hailing an Uber vehicle that is wheelchair accessible in London will be easy – just push a button. After a customer selects the UberWav option in the mobile application, they are connected with vehicles equipped with ramps or lifts. The vehicles will be able to accommodate a second passenger in addition to the wheelchair user, the BBC reported.  

Uber plans to invest more than 1 million pounds (more than $14.4 million) over the first 18 months to launch the program, according to BBC.  A spokesman told WashingtonNewsWire that the company is providing 55 vehicles in the new fleet but planned to expand this to more than 100 "in the coming months."

The program is an expansion of UberAssist, which allows senior citizens and people with disabilities to request extra assistance for UberX, its cheapest rideshare program.  

An UberWAV fare will be the same as UberX, according to BBC, which wasn't the case in Los Angeles, where the company came under fire for charging more for wheelchair-accessible vehicles than other ones. 

A ride to or from Los Angeles International Airport to downtown, a distance of about 20 miles, cost $39 to $52, according to The Los Angeles Times. Although this rate is similar to one in the company's sport utility vehicles, UberX cost half as much.  

"It's just blatant discrimination," Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund in Berkeley, Calif., told The Los Angeles Times. "They can't charge people with disabilities more money to take the vehicle that happens to be the one that's accessible to them."  

In Los Angeles, a ride in an wheelchair-accessible taxi costs the same as any other cab, according to the L.A. Times. About 10 percent of the city's 2,361 taxis can accommodate electric wheelchairs, and 1 in 10 Angelenos identify as disabled. 

Uber and Lyft, whose policy is wheelchair users should be reasonably accommodated, have drawn discrimination lawsuits, claiming they do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Uber reached a settlement with advocates for the blind over a 2014 federal lawsuit that alleged Uber discriminates against passengers and their service dogs

Uber will also launch a program in Chicago, UberAccess, later this month, which will offer two tiers of service, the Chicago Tribune reported. One is wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The other is drivers trained to assist wheelchair users and senior citizens.  

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