Accessibility and the Sharing Economy: Leap, Uber, Lyft and ADA requirements


Creative Commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by pix.plz

The disruption of traditional transportation by startups like Uber and Lyft has created waves and caused many cities and agencies to re-examine how they regulate taxis and the livery system. Now it looks like upstarts like Leap and Chariot, aiming to disrupt public transit, may be on the same course. 

It was reported today that last month a complaint was filed with the Department of Justice because Leap has failed to make its buses accessible to wheelchairs. This echoes similar concerns that has been expressed about Uber and Lyft. It is important to note that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require automobiles to be accessible, while other types of vehicles (vans and buses) must be accessible. 

Transit is crucial in providing accessible mobility options for people with disabilities, which is important to the quality of life. There has been much research focused on how to improve these transportation networks, including using taxis as a potential form of paratransit. TNCs like Uber and Lyft have improved accessible for some groups, it has been inconsistent. This review of Uber from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) points out the service works well with iOS, but that they Android app is not accessible. There is also the issue that riders with guide dogs might be refused a ride and "there appears to be no legal recourse that can be taken under the ADA at this time." The AFB has since filed a lawsuit against Uber and the DOJ now says Uber must comply with ADA. These sorts of regulatory growing pains seem to be a part of disruptive transportation companies maturity, which is why the complaint filed against Leap isn't very surprising. 

The Leap case also raises the existential question - what does it mean to be a transit service? Part of Leap's argument is that they do not provide transit, rather they connect riders with an operator. This is the same position Uber and Lyft have taken with regard to its relationship with riders and drivers, which also has a lawsuit in the courts. Leap and Chariot are basically modern jitneys that compliment existing services and jitneys are not exempt ADA requirements.