News / Ottawa

UberAssist to compete with Para Transpo

Ottawa's latest Uber service will fill service gaps left by an unreliable Para Transpo, clients say.

Para Transpo will have competition now that UberAssist has launched in the capital.

Metro file

Para Transpo will have competition now that UberAssist has launched in the capital.

No mobility? No problem, according to Uber, which launched its UberAssist service in Ottawa Wednesday.

The controversial ride-sharing app is taking on Para Transpo in its latest bid to become the taxi company of choice in Ottawa, despite being technically illegal.

According to the company, UberAssist will offer door-to-door service for customers with mobility issues for the same price as a regular UberX cab. The service will allow seniors, people with disabilities and others to get some extra assistance in and out of the car, the company said.

Those in power wheelchairs that need a wheelchair lift and safety straps won’t be eligible, but people in wheelchairs that can be folded up will be able to use the service.

For frustrated Para Transpo customers, this could be just the salvation they’re looking for, said Ashleigh Nelles, a peer support co-ordinator at the Ottawa Independent Living Resource Centre.

“We had an incident last week where someone was stranded because Para had booked the slot for the wrong time,” Nelles said.

Para Transpo trips must be booked the day before, or regular appointments can be scheduled on an ongoing basis.

Clients often take to social media to complain that their Para ride didn’t show up or was so late they missed their appointment. Vocal accessibility advocate Ryan Lythall, for example, wrote on Facebook last week about a botched trip to Costco that could have been much more serious if he’d been heading to a medical appointment.

“It definitely hinders the independence and empowerment factor of peoples’ lives,” Nelles said.

She said UberAssist will put the control back into the hands of the client, even if they just use it as a backup when Para doesn’t show up.

Of course, Nelles said it remains to be seen how successful the service might be, and she’ll be watching closely to make sure safety and customer service is top notch.

The company said only drivers with ratings above 4.6 out of five will be hired for UberAssist, and they’ll have to pass a criminal background check. They'll also take a hands-on course from Toronto-based Paralympian Tracy Schmitt to learn how to properly assist clients.

Ultimately Nelles said the service could save Para customers a lot of grief.

“Anything that can put the control in an individual’s hands is so important,” she said. This week, Uber will donate its profits from UberAssist to Nelles’ non-profit organization “to further support those with accessibility needs in our community,” the company said in its announcement.

City councillors will debate April 7 whether or not Uber should be made legal under new taxi regulations. City officials declined to discuss the new UberAssist service until then.

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