Are Uber and Lyft Transportation Companies? The Answer Could Have Huge Implications


Companies like Uber and Lyft make it easier for the average person to get from point “A” to point “B” whenever necessary. Ridesharing has become so ubiquitous, in fact, that it can be easy to take this convenience for granted. If your car needs repairs, for example, you can simply whip out your phone and get a ride back to the office in minutes, or if you’re out on the town with friends it’s almost second nature to hail an Uber after a few drinks rather than risk driving yourself. However, this ease of use isn’t as readily available to many people who are disabled and rely on wheelchair accessible transportation.

Accessible Ridesharing

For many disabled Americans who require wheelchair assistance, finding a vehicle to help them get around is no easy task. Rather than being able to simply hail an Uber or a Lyft at anytime, paratransit vans require 24-hour notice to reserve and schedule a simple ride to the grocery store. New York resident Harriet Lowell utilizes a motorized wheelchair and is all too familiar with this routine. Unfortunately, when her husband was unexpectedly rushed to the emergency room with a pulmonary embolism, she realized she had no way to get herself to the hospital.

In Lowell v. Lyft, Inc., Case No. 7:2017cv06251, she sued ridesharing company Lyft in a pending class action lawsuit on the grounds the company discriminates against those who utilize wheelchairs by failing to provide accessible vehicles. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all private entities providing transportation to the public are required to have vehicles that accommodate wheelchairs. Along with the ADA, many states have anti-discrimination laws in place, which require taxis, bus companies, and other transportation services to accommodate people with disabilities. Although the majority of taxi companies across the U.S. have wheelchair-accessible vehicles available in their fleets. Many taxi companies have either gone out of business or greatly downsized their fleets as are result of ride sharing companies.

What Constitutes a “Transportation Company?”

While Lowell’s dispute has yet to be decided, Lyft argues that it is not subject to the ADA. The company notes the difficulty of getting around in a wheelchair, but says this is not a problem it created or perpetuated. Lyft’s business model is centered on drivers using their own cars; and, those drivers can’t install wheelchair ramps or lifts in their vehicles for the sole purpose of driving for Lyft. Lyft maintains that it is not a transportation business but rather a tech company.

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