A new lawsuit against Uber filed by a Brooklyn woman who uses a motorized wheelchair calls the ride-sharing app’s service linking people in wheelchairs to accessible yellow and green taxis “a paltry smokescreen.”
Uber touts the service as a lifeline for people with disabilities who have trouble traveling around the city.
But Elizabeth Ramos, 54, who belongs to disability rights groups and has used a wheelchair since she was 12 due to scoliosis, tested out the service twice — once outside her Brooklyn apartment building and again in Midtown.
On July 20, she tried unsuccessfully three times over the course of an hour from her home in Starrett City in East New York to get an accessible taxi through the app’s UberWAV platform.
No rides showed up, leaving her with “no viable alternatives that offered the same level of service, response time, or convenience available to able-bodied passengers seeking on-demand transportation services,” the July 29 suit filed in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn says.
In Midtown on Nov. 5, it took Ramos about 40 minutes and two canceled pickups before she was able to find a yellow or green taxi through Uber that would take the trip, according to a separate complaint she filed with the city’s Human Rights Commission.
The city has more than 2,000 accessible yellow and green taxis out of a fleet of more than 20,000, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which is aiming to eventually make half the fleet accessible.
It is also planning to expand its accessible cab dispatch system in Manhattan to cover the entire city early next year.
Even if there were more viable alternatives to Uber, Ramos said they would be no substitute.
“Uber is known, in its history, for being a little more economical,” she said. “Not having them defeats the purpose for people like myself, for people in a wheelchair, to live a normal life.”
An Uber spokesman declined to comment on the suit. But disability advocates have long protested the app’s lack of accessible vehicles.
Jim Weisman, of the United Spinal Association, said he’d love for Uber to make half of its fleet accessible, saying that “50% is better than no percent.”
Ramos, who uses the unpopular Access-A-Ride service, recalled the moment that Uber caught her attention.
After visiting her while she was at New York Presbyterian Hospital, her 29-year-old daughter booked an Uber back to Starrett City for about $35.
“In my head, I was saying to myself, ‘Wow, I wish I could do that,’” she said. “I would like to try and be more independent, on my own. Not just wait on Access-A-Ride.”
She is suing Uber under the city and state’s human rights law to get the app classified as a public accommodation, like taxis.
“Everything that makes Uber what it is, everything that makes it attractive to any customer — the fact that it’s fast, convenient and on demand — you just don’t get that,” Ramos’ attorney Stan Sharovskiy said. “She tried to go ahead and get UberWAV and they said, sorry not available. Is any other able-bodied customer going to get that treatment? Absolutely not.”