Uber's policy about service dogs

December 11, 2014 • Posted in blindness, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, technology for people who are blind, travel, Uncategorized, Whitney by

Last night my Seeing Eye dog and I took an Uber ride to a special “accessible” performance of the play Great Expectations. From the Victory Gardens web site:

Wednesday, December 10 at 8:00 PM
Access Services include: Audio Description, Closed Captioning, Wheelchair accessibility, free UBER Transportation

All things being equal, I'd rather just walk.

All things being equal, I’d rather just walk.

Mike wasn’t interested in going, and I’ve been curious to see how a Uber driver would react to a rider with a service dog. So gee, if the ride to the theatre would be free, last night seemed like the perfect time to try it.

Regular cab drivers are required by law to pick up people with disabilities who travel with service dogs, but since Uber drivers are independent contractors driving private vehicles, they don’t have to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Uber web site says it like this:

We leave the decision whether or not to transport pets at the discretion of your driver. When traveling with a pet, we recommend calling your driver as soon as you’ve placed your request (tap the arrow next to your driver’s information, then “CONTACT DRIVER”) to make sure they don’t mind taking your pet.

A number of legal complaints have been filed alleging Uber discriminates against blind and visually-impaired people who use guide dogs. The cases are still pending, but in a move that is presumably related, Uber announced in September that they had launched a new platform to “train uberX partners on the necessary knowledge and safety requirements for those with accessibility needs.” People like me who might need special assistance were instructed to link to UberASSIST on the Uber app so a driver who’d been through the special training would come pick us up.

Mike took a photo of Whitney in her Seeing Eye harness standing next to me to use on my Uber account. He helped me plug in the special promo code and find the Uber ASSIST link on my talking IPhone, but I was so intent on simulating what the experience would be like on my own that I wouldn’t let him come out on the sidewalk and wait for the driver with me. “You can watch from inside the door there to make sure I get a ride, but you have to hide,” I told him.

When I heard my talking iPhone call out “Uber driver arriving in three minutes” I headed outside with Whitney and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally I heard the door to our building squeak open behind me. “He’s right there,” Mike whispered.

”But I’m blind!” I scolded back. “I want him to have to figure out how to let me know he’s here!” Just then my phone started ringing.

  • Uber Driver: Beth! It’s your Uber driver. I’m here.
  • Me: Yeah, so am I.
  • Uber Driver: Where?

I’d been standing as tall as I possibly could, and Whitney was right at my side. Didn’t he see our photo on his app? Wasn’t it obvious I can’t see? I gave our address, the one the magic app is supposed to give to the driver, and explained that I’m blind, and I can’t see him.

  • Uber Driver (sounding confused: Oh. Well, I’m right here in front of your building.
  • Me: But I’m blind. I can’t see you.
  • Uber Driver (still sounding confused): Oh.
  • Me: Can you open the door and call out or something?
  • Uber Driver: Oh! Sorry. Yeah. Okay.

My driver got out, called my name, Whitney led me to the car, opened the back door, I got in, buckled my seatbelt, called Whitney to come in to sit on the floor at my feet, and we were off

On our ride I complimented my driver’s big car, told him Whitney appreciated all the room she had on the floor, and asked him if he’d received special notice that we’d asked for an Uber ASSIST vehicle. He had no idea what I was talking about.

I spent most of the rest of the ride explaining what Uber ASSIST is, how it’s supposed to train interested drivers on the best ways to assist people with disabilities or special needs. “I’ve never heard of that,” he said, adding that he thought ithe idea was “really interesting.”

So much for Uber ASSIST. We were late for the audio tour they’d planned before the play, but the condensed audio tour the show’s actors and actresses squeezed in for me was very helpful, and the performance was absolutely wonderful. Sighted friends who met me there said they’d drive Whitney and me home afterwards, and so I told myself what the heck, Uber ASSIST wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but at least the ride over was free.

But then I got up this morning and checked out my Uber ASSIST online receipt. I’d been charged for the ride.

Karen Giammarese On December 12, 2014 at 12:00 am

Unreal! I was so excited to see a Safe & Sound blog and then read your story. I just keep shaking my head. I’m interested to hear if there is any follow-up to this. So looking forward to running into you on Dearborn Street soon! Hugs

bethfinke On December 12, 2014 at 10:18 am

What a coincidence: I look forward to running into you (not literally, I hope!) on Dearborn soon, too, Karen.

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Mary Rigdon On December 12, 2014 at 7:56 am

Beth—

I have been worried about UBER and whether they are really insured for driving paying passengers. So I don’t really want to use them and now your experience convinces me that taxis are a better bet. We have been using Yellow cab recently to go to the airport and they always show up early and are helpful with luggage which I appreciate.

Glad you are all safe!

Mary

Sent from my iPhone

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bethfinke On December 12, 2014 at 10:21 am

You know, I’ve noticed lately that the regular Chicago cab drivers who pick Whitney and me up have been especially friendly and helpful, so I just might have to give credit to Uber and the other ridesharing companies –they may have put pressure on the regular cabbies to step up a bit.

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Pam Berman On December 12, 2014 at 8:47 am

Very interesting topic Beth. I’ve been very curious about Uber myself too. I also saw the advertisement for free Uber transportation to & from the Victory Gardens performance the other night, and thought it might be more trouble then it was worth. I’d love to hear how you resolve this. Thanks for sharing!

bethfinke On December 12, 2014 at 10:24 am

Your hunch was right, Pam. I live on a street that is busy enough to have regular cabs passing by pretty regularly, Whit & I would have been better off just using one of those. That said, I’m glad to have tried this “Uber ACCESS” experiment — I learned something!

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Doug On December 12, 2014 at 8:53 am

I had an Uber account when I was still working, and I must admit that my experience was good. Reports lately have become mixed and I’ve dropped my account; mostly because I don’t really need them anymore. But I sure would like to see you follow up on this one.

bethfinke On December 12, 2014 at 10:27 am

I did file a complaint with Uber about being charged for the trip, and in the spirit of writing, this comment serves as foreshadowing — you’ll have to keep reading the comments to find out how/if Uber responded to my complaint….!

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Lauren On December 12, 2014 at 9:05 am

We’ve had all kinds of bad experiences with taxis–regular ones, the ones “required” by law to accept service dogs…and more often than not, we have been unsuccessful in either getting the cabbie to stop and give us a ride or in getting action from a supervisor. We’ve walked several miles in the middle of the night through questionable neighborhoods to get back to our hotel. We’ve had to call the hotel and ask that a cab be sent, despite cabs roaming around where we are. And we’ve actually had one cabbie bar his door to keep us from innocently climbing in–we assumed the open door meant an open cab. Silly us. We haven’t used Uber, and wouldn’t even without your experience, simply because we’ve had so many unpleasant experiences. I get that many taxi drivers are immigrants with limited experience and knowledge of service animals. But I don’t get that they can be turned loose in a taxi without instruction regarding ADA. It infuriates me, the second-class treatment we so often receive. Not every time, of course–most drivers are courteous, even if they’re a little freaked out. But if your job is in the service industry, seems to me you should know the rules and maintain a pleasant demeanor. End of sermon, yet another I’ve preached to the choir. Gonna have to branch out;-)

bethfinke On December 12, 2014 at 10:29 am

Amen, preacher. Maybe time for you to write a guest post for us, Lauren? I’m serious. Email me or Mike privately if you’re interested….

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Sheila A. Donovan On December 12, 2014 at 9:25 am

Beth, I hope you get your money back from Uber! Maybe Uber should hire you to teach a class to Uber drivers on how to handle handicapped passengers.

adventuresinlowvision On December 12, 2014 at 9:33 am

I agree with Sheila. Uber could film a educational webinar with you and Whitney and make it available not just to drivers, but the public, too. I hope Uber refunds your ride and steps up on its accessibility services.

bethfinke On December 12, 2014 at 10:41 am

Adventures and Sheila, Thanks for the confidence, and the compliments, but I have a feeling there might be webinars like that out there already? Dunno. And happy to report that Uber responded very quickly to my complaint about using a promo code for a free ride but getting charged for the ride anyways. Have a feeling they get that sort of complaint a lot, so it was probably fairly easy for them to just take that charge off my record — I didn’t mention anything about the driver not being trained to do “Uber ACCESS” work, thought that might be too complicated to explain in a simple complaint form. Now am curious to see how carefully Uber staff members monitor blogs and such for complaints/compliments about their ridesharing service — let’s see if anyone from Uber leaves a comment here!

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adventuresinlowvision On December 12, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Beth I tweeted a link to your blog post to @uber_support since that’s where Uber’s twitter profile says to send comments. I figure it can’t hurt.

bethfinke On December 12, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Thanks — makes me think perhaps I should add a “P.S.” or whatever to the blog post explaining that in the end they did indeed fix my receipt and I got the free ride…

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bethfinke On December 15, 2014 at 7:45 am

And now this: the email I got from Uber to let me know they’d “adjusted my receipt to reflect the promotion” asked me to email back if I had any other questions. I sent the following note. Stay tuned to find out if I get aanother response…
““Thank you so much for adjusting my fare to reflect the promotion I’d taken advantage of on December 10, 2014. My other question has to do with your “Uber ASSIST” program. I am blind and use a Seeing Eye dog to get around. I requested an Uber ASSIST driver for my ride December 10, 2014, but the driver who came to pick me up had no idea what “Uber ASSIST” is. The ride went fine after the driver realized he’d have to call out his car window to me to let me know exactly where he was once he’d arrived, but now I’m wondering: does Uber ASSIST really exist?”

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