Wheelchair Users Sue Lyft, Claim Discrimination

The plaintiffs don't want money, they just want Lyft to improve its service.

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Lyft faces a discrimination lawsuit in the San Francisco Bay Area. Disability Rights Advocates has filed a class-action suit against the ride-hailing company on behalf of Independent Living Resource Center and two wheelchair users. The suit alleges that Lyft discriminates against people who use wheelchairs by not providing enough wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

The plaintiffs claim Lyft is in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which guarantees full and equal accommodations to people with disabilities, as well as the California Disabled Persons Act.

"There is no doubt that those living with disabilities face significant transportation challenges—challenges that have existed for decades," a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. "Since Lyft was founded in 2012, we have sought to increase access to transportation around the country for underserved populations, including those living with disabilities. We currently have partnerships and programs to provide enhanced WAV access in various parts of the country, and are actively exploring ways to expand them nationwide."

Lyft does have a service called Access aimed at people with disabilities, but the lawsuit calls it "a sham and a completely inadequate substitute for actual accessible transportation." Instead of connecting a wheelchair user directly to a driver with an accessible vehicle, the lawsuit claims, Lyft directs users to a website with contact information for paratransit services, public transportation agencies, and taxi companies.

TechCrunch found that to be the case when one of its writers tried to use Access. After requesting a car, they received a text message stating that "Lyft accommodates service animals and foldable wheelchairs," and directing users in need of a vehicle with a wheelchair ramp or lift to a website with contact information for "local services." 

That means Lyft isn't really an option for people with non-folding wheelchairs. The plaintiffs claim this lack of access is compounded by lack of wheelchair accessibility on San Francisco's BART public-transit system, and similar issues regarding accessibility with Lyft rival Uber. Disability Rights Advocates has filed similar suits against Uber in both California and New York. Like Lyft, Uber has made some effort to accommodate wheelchair users, but the group believes the company is not doing enough.

The plaintiffs are not asking for money, they just want Lyft to improve its service. But it's unclear how the company will do that. Unlike taxi companies, ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber don't own fleets of vehicles. They rely on freelance drivers to provide their own vehicles. It's hard to see how Lyft could get drivers to invest in wheelchair-accessible vehicles, or ensure that drivers are prepared to handle loading and unloading a passenger in a wheelchair.