News / Toronto

Advocates demand Lyft meet same accessibility standards as rival Uber

As the ride-sharing company gears up for a December launch in Toronto, its long-term plans on accessibility for its new Canadian market remain uncertain.

Maayan Ziv in Toronto. Ziv hopes Lyft, like Uber, makes an 

effort to facilitate people with disabilities.

Torstar News Service

Maayan Ziv in Toronto. Ziv hopes Lyft, like Uber, makes an effort to facilitate people with disabilities.

Local advocates who pushed Uber to up its game on accessibility are urging Lyft, which enters the Toronto market in December, to do the same.

“Whether it’s Uber or a competitor, looking hard at accessibility is a vital component for any business,” said Maayan Ziv, founder of accessibility-based tech firm AccessNow. “Regardless of who you are, you should not be restricted from a service.”

Lyft announced this week that its first expansion outside the U.S. will be to Toronto and other GTA cities, but its long-term plans on accessibility remain uncertain, particularly for passengers who cannot transfer from their wheelchairs.

Though it has proven far less controversial than Uber, Lyft has also been sued in U.S. courts by claimants who said its efforts to accommodate disabled passengers fell badly short.

In late 2015, Ziv and others urged Uber to better its UberWAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle) offering and, in early 2016, a framework was put in place that has led to improvements, advocates say.

Working with OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre, Uber began offering fully accessible trips for the same cost as Uber X trips, initially after partnering with outside providers. Uber now offers drivers an additional $20 per UberWAV trip provided they do 40 or more per week, according to its website.

“It’s been a big value-add to my own experience navigating the city, the level of spontaneity it provides,” Ziv said. “The drivers are positive; they have training.”

Under Toronto’s July 2015 Vehicle for Hire bylaw, providers with more than 500 affiliated vehicles must provide accessible trips for the same price and comparable wait times as non-accessible trips.

Terrence Ho uses UberWAV with his brother, who suffers from muscular dystrophy. He feels it compares favourably with Wheeltrans and accessible taxi providers because of its cost and on-demand nature. He normally gets an UberWAV in 15 to 35 minutes, he said, but drivers do turn down trips.

“Most recently I had to request three times before a driver was willing to pick us up,” he said by social-media message.

Lyft’s Access Mode allows users in certain markets like New York and Boston to order fully accessible vehicles with ramps in real time, and its site provides links to accessible third-party vehicle providers in U.S. cities. While GTA cities are now listed on Lyft’s site, local accessible options are not. Lyft did not respond to requests for comment on its wider plan.

“What Uber has committed to, and so should Lyft, is an industry-standard 10-minute service,” said Peter Athanasopoulos of Spinal Cord Injury Ontario. He feels Uber's decision to incentivize its accessible-vehicle drivers had served it well.

“What makes you successful is a commitment to inclusion to every Torontonian,” he said. “If Lyft makes that commitment, they’ll be successful.”

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