Uber Under Fire After NYC Accessibility Requirements Unfold

Uber and other for-hire vehicles may not have the capacity to fulfill new requirements in New York.

byRob Stumpf|
Uber Under Fire After NYC Accessibility Requirements Unfold


New York City seems to be one of the most regulated places in the United States when it comes to hitching a paid ride, and it's not like that's a hard thing to do in the Big Apple. Last week, Uber was dealt another blow when its services came under fire at a hearing held by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. Under a requirement proposed earlier this year, Uber would be one of many companies operating out of the city who will be required to keep a chunk of its vehicles handicap accessible. Now it's reported that Uber is firing back at the proposed numbers.

Per the July proposal, all For-Hire-Vehicle agencies in New York City would be required to begin allocating a portion of their fleet towards ensuring that New Yorkers with disabilities were given equal access to ride sharing as any other individual. In 2018, mandates would require 10 percent of FHV fleets to be accessible and dispatched to calls, whether or not the ride requires it. This number would then increase to 25 percent by 2021.

During the hearing, Crain's reports that a coalition representing eight FHVs of New York City, Uber included, met to reassure disability advocates that they had a plan to dispatch cars to meet the needs of the city, but feel that the TLC's mandates of percentage-based accessible vehicles was made without merit. The coalition of FHVs felt that by their calculations, only 784 rides would be required each day. Though the number of vehicles operated by FHV-licensed individuals is not clear, the coalition feels that their numbers are more accurate, a claim disputed by the disability advocates. Transportation consultant Bruce Schaller estimates that actual numbers are far greater, reaching between 6,000 and 8,000 app-driven hails per day.

Of the 166,826 licensed FHV operators in NYC, less than one-tenth of one percent were not trained in wheelchair accessibility.

We reached out to New York City's TLC regarding just what an accessible vehicle must consist of in order to be compliant with the new legislation. A spokesperson confirmed that FHVs will need to include a partial fleet capable of transporting wheelchair-bound individuals, stating that "Wheelchair-accessible vehicles must be equipped with a hydraulic lift or ramp designed to allow roll-in access to transport passengers who use wheelchairs.".

Accessible vehicles aren't cheap either, and other FHVs are aware of the impending costs that could very well "destroy their businesses." On top of the cost for the vehicle, companies often charge between $10,000 and $20,000 to convert the vehicle. Vehicles like the MV-1 can skyrocket above $49,975, or the Ford Explorer-based BraunAbility MXV has an MSRP of $65,580.

Of course, used vehicles are available on the market as well, but they must confirm to Uber's strict standards. In New York City, for example, the vehicle can be no older than 2006, limiting the age-depreciation factor of the vehicle. Browsing your local Craigslist should net a few examples of vehicles nearing the decade-old limit, but still floating around $20,000 for a high-mileage van.

The burden now lies on Uber and the other seven members of the coalition to determine the best way to handle the requirements set forth to them. It is unknown if the company plans to develop a partnership for these particular rides, or if Uber plans to reign supremacy. One thing that becomes foggy is just how they will convince owner-operators to foot the bill for these expensive vehicles, especially since they don't have a historically great track record on how drivers are paid. We're not sure ice cream will smooth over this battle, but only a few months are left before the TLC's requirements are made effective.