When it comes to transportation and disabilities, we can’t get there from here

July 1 is a date the disability community will watch very closely. That is when rideshare companies including Uber and […]

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July 1 is a date the disability community will watch very closely. That is when rideshare companies including Uber and Lyft say they will end service to Minneapolis. 

A dispute over rideshare driver pay has dragged on. It was the subject of vetoed state legislation in 2023. In March the Minneapolis City Council approved an ordinance to increase driver pay. While the intent is to ensure that rideshare drivers are paid at least as much as is required under the city’s minimum wage policy, the loss of a transportation resource is prompting great worry. 

Many people with disabilities rely on Uber and Lyft. It will be a huge disruption for us and for elders, businesses, visitors and the hospitality industry. 

The start date for higher pay was May 1 but the council kicked the can down the road in mid-April. That is seen as giving more time for new rideshare companies to emerge. The major transportation network companies will still be gone. 

Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposes the original rideshare ordinance, said a delay is not a fix. We agree with him. We’re very skeptical that viable alternatives will be found by July 1. 

We certainly appreciate the concerns about driver pay. We in the disability community know all too well what happens when workers are not paid enough. (Let us tell you about a little issue called the direct support staffing crisis.) 

But Uber and Lyft can’t have it both ways. The companies, which now are marketing themselves as an option for disabled Twin Citians, aren’t a transportation option for many of us. 

Why? Uber and Lyft contend that because they are technology-based and are not comparable to taxi services, they don’t have to provide accessible vehicles under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Taxi companies must provide vehicles accessible to passengers with a wheelchair or scooters can access. Minnesota lawmakers have yet to pass legislation that requires Uber, Lyft and their counterparts to do that. 

Disability community members have been refused rideshare service because drivers say it’s too hard to even fold up a walker or wheelchair. Disability community riders have been refused rides because drivers refuse to accommodate service dogs. 

Bringing in new companies by July 1 isn’t likely to make the situation any better. Those companies will likely claim that they also don’t have to meet ADA requirements.

Until a state law is passed mandating that all rideshare companies provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles, the July 1 delay is meaningless. Until something is done statewide about driver discrimination against people with disabilities, the Minneapolis City Council and its actions are a joke. 

There is a bigger and more insidious, overarching issue that must be considered. Throughout Minnesota and the nation, the transportation system for people with disabilities and elders is collapsing. It is an unsustainable mix of staffing shortages, rising costs and demand for service exceeding supply. 

And that is frightening. 

Advocating for improvements is necessary yet complex. Whom a disability advocate speaks to depends on where they live, where they travel to and how a serviced is provided. It can be daunting to figure out where to make comments heard. 

Those of us in the core cities fondly remember when we had many more local taxi companies. Many closed in the face of rideshare companies. The few remaining companies sometimes don’t have enough drivers. 

Why not use paratransit? Riders have experienced less than reliable service. That in turn has affected their employment, and their ability to be part of their home communities. 

Why not take regular transit? Too many transit service providers are short-staffed. Not every bus route is reliable and on time. Light rail trains can be an unnerving if not frightening experience at times, with open drug use and criminal behaviors. 

A woman with disabilities we know told us how she had to turn down a great job. She wasn’t physically able to do a 1 ½ hour bus ride, with two transfers, to and from work every day. She did not have good experience with her area’s paratransit. 

She has used rideshare services but cannot afford those all of the time. So she turned down a great job. Instead she stocks shelves and picks up as much overtime as she can to cover basic bills. 

Many disabled Minnesotans have similar stories. It’s especially dire in Greater Minnesota, where short-staffed companies cannot begin to meet the demand for rides for people with disabilities and elders. 

So as we are literally and figuratively left at the curb, here’s our message to policymakers at all levels. Do better. Pass a law requiring wheelchair-accessible vehicles and then back it up with some financial support for rideshare companies. 

To city officials: Consider the consequences of your actions. 

To the rideshare companies and all other service providers? Do better. Accommodate us. Get some accessible vehicles. Educate drivers about our needs. 

Do better. Do something. 

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