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Transportation

Why Can't Uber and Lyft Be More Wheelchair-Friendly?

Uber says it’s committed to better serving wheelchair users, but accessibility advocates say the ride-hailing industry has been reluctant to make progress.
Even with the advent of on-demand ride-hailing, getting around can be a drag for wheelchair users.
Even with the advent of on-demand ride-hailing, getting around can be a drag for wheelchair users.Tina Fineberg/AP

If you want to complain about your commute with Valerie Piro, chances are she’ll one-up your horror story. “Recently, there was an issue on an express bus with getting me off the bus and this loud alarm started blaring for, oh, a solid five minutes while the driver got me off,” said Piro, who’s working on her Ph.D in medieval history. “I’m not sure what was wrong. I felt so bad. There was a woman on there with her baby.”

For Piro, who uses a wheelchair, getting around her hometown of New York City is a daily challenge. She avoids using the subway, since less than a quarter of the city’s stations are accessible to wheelchairs. And the city’s Access-A-Ride door-to-door paratransit system is often a “hit or miss” experience, she said. In the 10 years she’s used a wheelchair, Piro has been routinely stranded by no-show vans and trucked around for hours on tangled routes. (Piro refers to some of her extended Access-A-Ride trips from her parents’ home in Bay Ridge to Manhattan as “the Great Tour of Brooklyn.”)