Here's what worries me about ride-sharing services

April 1, 2014 • Posted in blindness, guide dogs, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Whitney, writing by

An op-ed piece I wrote for the Chicago Tribune called Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act? was published today — I’m not fooling!

Billy, who first told me about ride sharing.

Billy, who first told me about ride sharing.

Our bartender friend Billy Balducci is the first person I remember telling me about ride-sharing. Billy can
get off pretty late from work at Hackney’s, our local tavern, and he says going home using UberX works great.

Ride-sharing services like uberX, Lyft and Sidecar allow regular people to offer their personal cars for hire. The rides are usually cheaper, you can order and pay for it with your Smartphone, and you don’t have to tip the driver. “The picture of the guy who’s picking you up comes up right on your phone, so you know who to expect when they pull up,” Billy marveled, leaning over the bar to show me before giving it a little more thought. “Guess that might not work so great for you, Beth!”

We both laughed. I was confident I could figure out a way to tackle that problem. What I was more concerned about was what might happen if a ride-sharing driver showed up and didn’t want to let my Seeing Eye dog in the car, and that’s what my piece in today’s Chicago Tribune is all about. It opens with an account of me heading to court in 2007 to testify against a cab driver who had refused to pick my Seeing Eye dog Hanni and me up outside the Chicago Hilton on Michigan Avenue back in 2007.

Now how could a cab driver ever refuse these two smiley faces?

Mike helped me hail a cab outside our apartment building the morning I had to go testify. And yes, truth really is stranger than fiction: A cab driver refused to pick me up on the way to court! The guy slowed down for Mike, but then when he saw me standing there on the curb with Hanni, he said, “No dogs!” and sped off. Mike took down his license number and I reported the second cab driver, too.

Chicago cab drivers are required to take classes to learn about service dogs, and they have to pass a Public Chauffeur Licensing Exam before getting a livery license. They know they are required to pick us up, and the cab drivers I reported were fined for refusing to do so. More importantly, each had their livery license temporarily suspended.

I found an NBC News story that said a blind man in San Francisco complained to UberX after one of their drivers refused to pick him up with his guide dog. UberX apologized and gave him $20 credit toward his next ride. The driver was not penalized. From my Tribune article:

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that “public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services,” but since the vehicles used by ride-sharing companies are privately owned and operated by independent contractors, this is a legal gray area.

The blind man who was refused the ride might take civil action, but that could take a lot of time. And money. And that’s my problem with this whole ride-sharing thing. I didn’t have to pay a cent to report the Chicago cab drivers who disregarded the law, the cases were resolved quickly and efficiently, and the drivers were penalized. If a driver from a ride-sharing service refuses to pick me up with Whitney, I’ll have little recourse. The burden will be on me to pay to take the ride-sharing service and the driver to court. So for now, I’m sticking with rides in regulated Chicago cabs. As it says in the final line of my op-ed piece, “I’m not against innovation, but I believe the new services should be subject to some regulation and required training — just like cabs.”

susan ohde On April 1, 2014 at 5:06 pm

I’ve been muddling over this all day. Do the ride sharers get to choose who they want in your cab. Do you have to identify yourself – I am blind with a dog, I am deaf, I have dark skin and I wear a hoodie, I’m very old, I’m very young and drunk. Plus how this new technology of calling for taxis on smart phones eliminates the opportunity for folks to decide they need a cab and simple raise their hand. Reminds me of the current dispute about should a strictly religious baker make a cake for a same sex couple wedding.

bethfinke On April 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm

I’m not sure, but I think the ride-sharing driver gets a photo of you, and you get a photo of the driver, on your smart phones. I guess if my photo had Whitney in it they’d know, and only dog-lovers would pick me up? Like I say, I’m not sure…

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Nancy B On April 1, 2014 at 8:23 pm

I’m new to this idea….and it might be off topic but is it safe? I mean ordinary people but…..seems a little odd. I expect a modicum of safety with a cabbie, I guess. And also, getting around the other regulations besides disabilities. i.e. smoking?
Too bad every cab experience isn’t like London!

bethfinke On April 2, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Apparently the ride-sharing companies check the drivers out somehow before letting them work with their service, but you know, I’ve never heard whether smoking is allowed by the drivers. Or the riders!

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mike On April 1, 2014 at 9:54 pm

I wonder that for every driver concerned over an inconvenience (cleaning dog fur) or an “accident” (however unlikely) or just a dislike or even fear of animals, there may be four drivers willing and honored to serve us. Affording choice to those private owners by customer input to UberX for any needs; luggage, a dog, a kitty, storing a walker or chair, all might be addressed as a refinement to the business model. Willing, Happy, Fair?

bethfinke On April 2, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I guess that’d be fair, as long as the powers that be let the cab drivers who pick up folks who hail cabs discriminate like that, too, without being fined or having their licenses taken away….

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Susan Tanner On April 1, 2014 at 11:02 pm

I’m just shocked that any cab driver would or could pass up a blind passenger with a dog, especially if they knew the customer was blind. Really, how can a normal person do that??? As human beings, we should be naturally inclined to reach out and assist anyone needing a hand, regardless of whether it’s the law to do so or not. I don’t get it at all. It’s not about being a dog lover, it’s about being a human being.

bethfinke On April 2, 2014 at 2:48 pm

I honestly do think some of them are deathly afraid of dogs, or have a religious reason to not want dogs near them But then, they should take on some other career, they shouldn’t drive cabs in the city of Chicago!

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taraisarockstar On April 1, 2014 at 11:55 pm

It looks like the company has a lot of legal issues to deal with at the moment, including an assault lawsuit in Chicago. I agree that innovation is essential, but it should be a “given” that companies should follow regulations that have been put in place for a reason.

bethfinke On April 2, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Oh, hadn’t heard anything about that assault. Hmmm.

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Deborah Darsie On April 4, 2014 at 8:45 pm

It is a shame that the cabbies are refusing service to folks with service animals. It is really not much better than refusing to pick someone up because they are wearing a turban, multiple tattoos or some other superficial characteristic.

I have not taken the chance to try a cab ride with one of my ‘trainees’ but I suspect with the cultural majority of the drivers of the cabs in my area…that I might be left at the curb as well.

I enjoy your posts, they make me think…in a non-painful way!

bethfinke On April 5, 2014 at 9:36 am

Oh, Deborah, thank you so much –I can’t think of a nicer compliment than hearing I make people think — in a non-painful way!

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