As Uber and other ride-hailing companies face pressure to better serve wheelchair users in New York City, there are early indications that the companies are moving in the right direction.
Specifically, the three major ride-hailing companies – Uber, Lyft and Via – said they’re in compliance with the first benchmark of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s new accessibility rule, which requires ride-hailing companies to deploy more accessible vehicles and holds them to specific wait-time standards for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
These three companies told City & State that they each met the June benchmark – that 60% of wheelchair users be picked up within 15 minutes, and 90% within 30 minutes – but the TLC has yet to release its report.
The wait-time rule established last fall is one of two options that the TLC gave ride-hailing companies to increase accessible service for wheelchair users. It requires ride-hailing companies to have 80% of their accessible trip requests met in 10 minutes or less and 90% met in 15 minutes or less by June 2021. It also requires them to hit incremental benchmarks for trips serviced each year – for example, by June 2020, 80% of requested trips must be serviced in 15 minutes or less and 90% in 30 minutes or less.
The other option, which was established in late 2017, is for ride-hailing companies to steadily increase the number of trips done by wheelchair-accessible vehicles, whether or not the passenger requested one. This rule required ride-hailing companies to make 25% of their trips in wheelchair-accessible vehicles by mid-2023. The ride-hailing companies sued the TLC over this rule, which forced the TLC to settle last year and establish the alternative wait-time option.
Former TLC Chairman Matthew Daus – currently a transportation consultant who works with Via and other clients – said he thinks the ride-hailing companies brought the lawsuit because they thought the TLC’s original rule was unfair. “You’re basically telling people that they need to be using wheelchair-accessible vehicles even if the person requesting a trip is not a wheelchair user,” Daus told City & State.
Disability rights advocates argue that while it’s good that ride-hailing companies are taking some steps toward accessibility, they are more supportive of other measures like the 25% rule that the ride-hailing companies opted out of and the cap on new for-hire vehicle licenses in the city, which makes an exception for wheelchair-accessible cars.
“None of the proposals were perfect, but we thought that the 25% rule would get us closer to the possibility of reliable e-hail service,” said Joe Rappaport, the executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and spokesman for the Taxis for All campaign. “We didn’t support the creation of what appears to be a separate and unequal system,” he added, referring to the wait-time rule.
Daus, on the other hand, thinks the wait-time rule could be a better way of increasing accessible service. “It’s definitely in theory a better system than just requiring people buy wheelchair vehicles, to have a certain percentage in their fleet,” Daus said.
Uber told City & State that it was exceeding the June benchmark, but still has more work to do. “We believe that Uber can improve mobility for people with disabilities, and by increasing the availability of (wheelchair-accessible vehicles) and improving reliability, we’ve already exceeded the city’s 2019 requirements,” Uber spokesman Harry Hartfield told City & State in an emailed statement. “But we recognize that we’re still at the beginning, not the end, of this journey.”
Via spokesman Andy Ambrosius told City & State that Via is happy the TLC decided switched to the wait-time rule and that he believes it completed the second-highest number of accessible trips in this first year. “We were able to hit the requirements in both categories. The one in 15 minutes and the one in 30 minutes,” Ambrosius said. Lyft also told City & State through an emailed statement that they are in compliance with the benchmark for June 2019.
According to TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg, the process the agency uses for collecting and presenting the data is still incomplete and a full report won’t be published until roughly mid-September. “I have no reason to doubt what the companies themselves may have told you, but we cannot empirically confirm (that) until the process is complete,” Fromberg said.
Rappaport said he couldn’t speak to whether the ride-hailing companies hit the June benchmark, but that it was very low in the first place. “I think we’d be less critical if I hadn’t seen how these companies have fought accessibility over the years with every tool that they’ve got in the courts,” he said.
In a July 23 hearing on extending the cap on new ride-hailing permits, the TLC said the temporary freeze on new licenses had had a positive impact. According to a TLC slideshow presented at the hearing, one year ago there were a little over 200 accessible for-hire vehicles in the city and now there are nearly 800. However, the TLC said there are more than 120,000 for-hire vehicles operating in the city, which means less than 1% of these vehicles are wheelchair-accessible.
Advocates said that while they strongly support the cap and are happy that the number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles is rising, they want to see more done. “While it’s a small step in the right direction, the numbers that the TLC was talking about are still really low,” Justin Wood, director of organizing and strategic research with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, told City & State.
It won’t be entirely clear how well the ride-hailing companies are meeting the TLC’s accessibility standards until it releases its full report. “I think the key thing that the community is going to be concerned about is if the 15-minute requirement is being met or not,” Daus said.
Adams Clinical removes hurdle to clinical trial participation
How Adams Clinical increased retention and streamlined operations by switching to Uber.
One of the hardest parts of conducting a clinical trial is identifying willing participants. Once a participant is identified, strict qualifications and an often-lengthy time commitment limits who can participate, and a lack of access to transportation can make it difficult for participants to commit to and complete the study. To help improve recruitment and retention rates, Adams Clinical offered taxi rides to their participants. However, this solution became a burden on operational efficiency since taxis were only accessible to participants who lived close by and required the staff to pay at the end of each ride.
Finding the perfect transportation solution with Uber Health
To expand their transportation offering, Adams Clinical became an early beta partner with Uber in 2016. The team started using Uber’s web dashboard to arrange and pay for rides for participants with just a few clicks. Over the three years of this partnership, the switch to Uber Health simplified operational management, while reducing time spent on recruitment with increased retention rates. The easy-to-use Uber Health dashboard tracked all the rides and processed payments from one centralized interface, allowing the staff to arrange rides without the hassle of paying at the end of each trip. This flexibility, plus the extensive reach of Uber driver-partners in the Boston area, provided Adams Clinical with the transportation solution needed to successfully manage their participants in need of rides—which removed the headache from recruiting and retaining their study participants.
The result: Improved retention rates, simplified financial records, and an overall lift in team morale
By teaming with Uber Health, Adams Clinical enjoys a number of key benefits including:
• Expanded Recruitment—Using Uber Health cut down the length of enrollment by providing a larger pool to recruit from, resulting in a 5 to 10 percent reduction in recruitment time over the last two years.
• Centralized Billing—All rides are charged to one company credit card, which is then processed at the end of each month to streamline the amount of administrative effort required.
• Reliable Service—Each ride is tracked in the dashboard so the team knows when the participant will be arriving to help keep the rest of the study on schedule.
• Improved Retention—In the first two years of the partnership with Uber, Adams Clinical estimated up to 20 percent fewer people dropped out of a trial when transportation was arranged to and from the clinic.
• Financial Accountability—Details for each ride are available in the dashboard, and can be downloaded to a spreadsheet, offering convenient management with trial-specific reporting per participant.
• Easy to Use—Using Uber Health has been easy for both staff and participants, even among populations without smartphones or passengers new to Uber.
by Kendall Brown
Get a discounted lift to the polls on Election Day
By Jonathan Sperling
No MetroCard? No excuse to stay home on Election Day.
Ride-sharing giant Lyft is getting in on Get Out the Vote efforts by offering discounted rides to polling locations in New York City on Election Day.
Use code VOTENYC19 between 4:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. on Election Day to receive 50 percent off the price of a Lyft ride, up to $5. The deal is inspired by the fact that more than 15 million registered voters didn’t vote in 2016 because of transportation issues.
“At Lyft, we’re working to improve lives by connecting people and their communities through the world’s best transportation. This Election Day, we want to help make it easier for people in New York City to get to the polls,” said Lyft’s Director of Public Policy Jen Hensley. “Every voice is important, and we’re excited to help make them heard in this year’s elections.”
Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash kick off $90 million fight against California’s gig worker law
Under the ballot measure, drivers could get earnings guarantee of 120 percent of minimum wage
A group of drivers and couriers for Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash launched a new group called Protect App-Based Drivers and Services, which is aimed at passing a ballot initiative in California to counteract the effects of the state’s recently passed gig worker bill. The effort is being supported by the companies, which have vowed to spend $90 million to get the measure passed in 2020.
Assembly Bill 5, which was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on September 18th, enshrines the so-called “ABC test” for determining whether someone is a contractor or employee. Legal experts agree the law will make it more difficult for gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash to classify their drivers and couriers as independent contractors. And the companies have argued that the law represents an existential threat to their business models.
As such, the companies were preparing this contingency plan even before Newsom signed the bill into law. On August 29th, The New York Times reported that Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash would spend $90 million ($30 million each) to pass a ballot initiative that would essentially exempt them from the law. (InstaCart is also involved, but it hasn’t committed to spend any money to support its passage.) The hope was that after striking out with lawmakers and labor groups, the companies could win a reprieve by appealing directly to voters.
The ballot measure would ask voters to approve the following:
- At least 120 percent of the minimum wage
- $0.30 per mile for expenses such as gas and vehicle wear-and-tear
- Health care subsidies consistent with employer contributions under the Affordable Care Act for drivers who work 15 hours a week or more
- Occupational accident insurance to cover on-the-job injuries
- Automobile accident and liability insurance
- Protection against discrimination and sexual harassment
- Recurring background checks of drivers
- Mandatory safety training of drivers
- Zero tolerance for alcohol and drug offenses
- A cap on driver hours per day to prevent sleepy driving
It’s a new spin on the failed proposal that Uber and Lyft presented to state officials as a compromise to prevent the passage of AB5. The companies had promised to pay their drivers $21 an hour (but only while on a trip), provide them with sick leave, and “empower” them to “have a collective voice” — a nod toward drivers forming a union.
After AB5 passed, though, Uber and Lyft warned that drivers could lose their flexibility to drive when they wanted. “Drivers would not be able to choose when to sign on anytime they want it,” Tony West, Uber’s general counsel, said in September. “They would work in shifts like every other employee works in shifts.” Experts have said there is nothing in federal or state law that precludes Uber from offering its drivers the same flexibility as employees as they have now as contractors.
(West also claimed that Uber could ultimately pass the ABC test because “drivers’ work is outside the usual course of Uber’s business.”)
The ballot measure is a risky — and costly — move for Uber and Lyft, insofar as it could further antagonize labor unions that have been hugely influential over the passage of AB5. Unions championed the bill throughout the legislative process, and have been at the center of the fight over gig work in California.
“This measure is another brazen attempt by some of the richest corporations in California to avoid playing by the same rules as all other law-abiding companies in our state,” Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said in a statement. “California’s unions will join drivers who want fair wages, better treatment and flexibility to defeat this corporate ploy.”
Meanwhile, union-backed groups and other supporters of AB5 are planning to protest outside the homes of key Uber investors, including Uber board member and Benchmark Capital partner Bill Gurley.
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