Uber and Lyft overhaul their wheelchair-accessible vehicle programs

Published on June 13, 2019

New legislation in New York will require ride-share giants like Uber and Lyft to overhaul their Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAV) fleets to be able to fulfill a majority of their WAV requests much faster.

Uber and Lyft provide a somewhat seamless experience for drivers and most riders — as long as there isn’t a need for wheelchair accessibility. Unfortunately, for millions of people with limited mobility, relying on wheelchairs and accessibility programs, hailing ride share vehicles can mean an unusually long wait time.

You might have heard of a class action lawsuit against Uber back in July of 2017 when disability rights groups claimed that Uber “violates New York City human rights laws by failing to make enough of its vehicles accessible to disabled people.” The new mandates have kickstarted the process of getting WAVs on the road — though without these regulations, the ramp-up phase would likely be slow.

Uber championed the transition to compliance through strategic partnerships with WAV fleet and driver recruitment companies. Other ridesharing apps like Lyft, Juno, and Via are also forming partnerships to help ensure compliance.

Your Ride will arrive in…

Out of 58,000 ride-share-ready vehicles in the city at the time of the lawsuit, only a few dozen were outfitted to be a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) to service the estimated 65,000 individuals in wheelchairs in New York. Due to the lack of actual cars classified as WAVs, when an accessible ride is requested, it has been reported that wait times can be 2-6 times longer than a regular request if there is one even available.

Part of the new mandate’s goal is to lower the wait time and fulfill a majority of WAV requests within 15 minutes, which means increasing the number of WAVs and drivers on the road. This change will enable an equal quality experience for WAV rideshare requests as seen with the regular, seamless service that most are accustomed to. However, once the WAV programs are in compliance, it’s likely that we will get to a point where the supply outweighs the demand.

Supply and demand

Critics of the new mandate claim certain details were determined arbitrarily by the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) and can lead to more WAVs on the road than needed to serve that market. To avoid underutilized, idle WAVs circling the city, WAVs and their drivers can become multi-purposed by picking up all types of passengers for extra revenue. This unique positioning is a special advantage for owners and drivers of WAVs since the TLC capped the number of TLC license plates in the city and no longer allow new drivers to add TLC plates on personal vehicles, with the exception being WAVs.

Whether the compliance mandate creates equilibrium in the market or an excess of supply, people with mobility disabilities will be better served. The obvious benefits here are improved mobility and greater access for those in wheelchairs which will make getting to medical appointments and attending social functions much easier.  These benefits can have a positive impact on the rider’s quality of life and health.

More independence equals more life

According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), mobility disability is a key factor in calculating accurate life expectancy. Independence in activities of daily life or ADL is another key metric attributing to the life expectancy equation. There happens to be a correlation between dependence/independence in mobility (& ADL) and life expectancy. Simply put, the more independent you are, the greater the life expectancy you can expect, and vice versa.

With ridesharing now bringing extremely affordable and timely access to transportation for those with a mobility disability, we may see a small increase in life expectancy for those individuals. To truly understand the effect of improved access to affordable, on-demand, accessible transportation on life expectancy, a new study may be in order.

Hospital services improve with WAV ridesharing

People with mobility disabilities will not be the only ones benefiting from these new mandates, hospitals will too. Many people joke about taking an Uber to the hospital to save thousands of dollars on dispatching an ambulance. It is a wise decision if you are talking about Non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) but reckless if you really do need professional first aid response en-route to the hospital.

The NEMT market is huge and is being looked at by the rideshare giants. An emerging ride-hailing company focusing on this called Velo Health is spearheading the industry by integrating billing services to health insurance such as Medicaid which makes it seamless for hospitals to arrange rides for patients.

In an effort to turn rooms over faster when mobility-disabled patients are ready to be discharged and to decrease the number of missed appointments due to transportation issues, hospitals and doctor offices can leverage platforms like Velo Health, Uber, and Lyft.

Rather than depending on family members or utilizing expensive, private transportation companies, the ride-hailing platforms offer reliable, affordable, on-demand service that the hospitals can utilize for their patients to provide a more seamless experience. Hopefully, the medical staff can take advantage of these new transportation options to help rooms be turned over faster allowing more patients to be treated.

For WAV drivers to improve the whole experience for the patient-rider, if not already implemented, we can imagine some training program with a pay increase to help elderly passengers in-and-out of the vehicle with medical equipment like oxygen tanks. This approach considers virtually every touch point the patient-rider has from requesting a ride, getting in-and-out of the vehicle, and paying for the ride. New incentives programs for these trained drivers, like we’ve seen with other rideshare startups, can be what is needed to make these programs even more successful.

The implications of WAVs being united with ride-sharing platforms and medical billing integration is something that has been on the horizon for a long time and we are starting to see things move and shake. Mobility-disabled individuals can experience an improved quality of life and hopefully an increase in their life expectancy. Hospitals and private physician offices can become much more efficient and treat more patients with the ability to easily arrange cost-effective, accessible transportation options.

Dean Scaduto is a Columnist at Grit Daily. Based in New York, New York, Dean is the CEO of Dino's Digital Marketing & Advisory Firm where he selectively works with mission-driven campaigns and Fortune 500 companies. Dean holds his master's degree from Columbia University and holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard. Dean advises several tech startups including Bixby, Pairity, and DEOXY -- and formerly served on the advisory board of the Foundation for Gender Equality.

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