Uber has been criticized in the past for not providing enough wheelchair-accessible vehicles, but now the ride-hailing company is recruiting outside help to remedy that. Uber is partnering with paratransit operator MV Transportation to get more properly equipped vehicles into operation. The goal is to ensure that wheelchair users don't have to wait more than 15 minutes for a ride.
MV Transportation operates across 30 states and Canada, but the company's vehicles will only initially be available through Uber in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Toronto, and Washington, D.C., an Uber blog post said. The company said it may expand the program to other cities.
Uber has historically relied on freelance drivers to provide their own cars, but the company said there simply weren't enough wheelchair-accessible vehicles available. That demonstrates a downside to Uber's business model: not owning vehicles and treating drivers as independent contractors saves money, but it also means Uber has less control over what vehicles are in its fleet.
All wheelchair-accessible vehicles under the new program are owned by MV Transportation and will be operated by the company's drivers. Rides will cost the same as UberX, Uber head of Global Policy for Accessibility and Underserved Communities Malcolm Glenn said in an interview with TechCrunch. Glenn said Uber is investing heavily in MV to ensure the desired level of service.
Uber began focusing more on people with disabilities in 2014 with the launch of Uber Access. That apparently didn't do the trick, as the company (along with rival Lyft) has been sued over the intervening years for lack of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, and faced increased scrutiny from regulators.
In addition to the partnership with MV, Uber has joined a paratransit pilot program in Boston run by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the city's public transit agency.