Taking Uber with a guide dog: jury still out

May 12, 2016 • Posted in blindness, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized by

taxi-minivanIn 2014 I had an op-ed piece published in the Chicago Tribune called “Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?” Well, two years later, ride-sharing for people with disabilities — namely, those of us who use service dogs — is back in the news.

Up to now Uber has not required drivers to allow people who use service animals in their cars. The only reference to animals in their policy statement was one that says they “leave the decision whether or not to transport pets at the discretion of your driver.”

Since Uber cars are privately owned and operated by independent contractors, Uber maintains they don’t have to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA says “public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services,” but it doesn’t say anything about private rides.

Uber identifies as a technology company — not a transportation company — and claims it is not required to provide ADA-mandated vehicles. Their stance has stirred criticism from disability advocate groups, and in 2014 the National Federation of the Blind of California filed a suit claiming many Uber drivers have refused to take passengers with guide dogs.

Uber denied discriminating and argued that, as a ride-hailing service that merely connects drivers and passengers, it wasn’t covered by laws that require taxis and other transportation services to carry a passenger’s service animal.

A federal magistrate in San Francisco refused to dismiss the suit last year, leading to a settlement late last month before the case was scheduled for trial. According to the agreement, Uber will tell their drivers they have an obligation to carry guide dogs, and Uber will also be required to dismiss any driver who knowingly violates that policy a single time. The Uber site has added a paragraph to its “bringing along a pet” page about service dogs now, too. It reads:

Please note: All drivers are required by law to transport service animals. If you experience issues using Uber with your service animal, please reach out to us by reporting an issue with your trip.

Is it me, or does that language seem a little evasive? All drivers are required by law…. Uber will also be required to dismiss any driver who knowingly violates…. Required under the settlement — who’s monitoring and who’s enforcing? This smells like it’s still putting the burden on the guide dog user who has been refused the service to ultimately press the case.

The settlement was proposed to the court on April 29, 2016, and copies are available online.

I want this to be good news. But who exactly do we “reach out” to if a driver refuses to pick us up? Uber has become somewhat notorious for non-responsiveness, and connecting with a human seems nearly impossible. I know exactly what to do if a taxi refuses service. Contact the City of Chicago office that handles such complaints, online or by phone. I’ve done it, and it works. And the ongoing enforcement helps keep taxi drivers honest (I’m happy to report that it’s been years since I’ve had cause to complain about a registered Chicago cab driver refusing to take my guide dog).

I’m still left with some questions about Uber. Will this new policy they’ve agreed to only apply in California, or all over the United States? Can Uber still claim that because they simply connect drivers with passengers, they don’t have to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?

If you ask me, when it comes to Uber, the jury is still out.

Dave Hyde On May 12, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Beth, the proposed settlement is nation-wide. It also requires uber to establish customer service for and train its personnel.

Sent from my iPhone


bethfinke On May 12, 2016 at 1:02 pm

Oh. I read on a National Federation of the Blind press release that “Plaintiffs and defendant submitted the proposed settlement to the court on April 29, 2016, and seek approval from the court to settle as a nationwide class action” but never heard if the court approved the request to make it a nationwide class action. Has that happened already, do you know?


Charlene S. On May 12, 2016 at 6:25 pm

If Uber refuses to take you and Whitney call a television station … You get things “done” a lot faster in the Media.

bethfinke On May 13, 2016 at 8:10 am

But who will take the video of the driver refusing us so the TV station will have something to show viewers? I’m pretty shaky with a camera….!


Kathy On May 13, 2016 at 1:42 pm

For the last few months I have had to piece together rides to get to my train to get downtown to work. I’ve accomplished this with a paratransit ride or two, my son when he’s available and Uber. I have always worried that an Uber driver would refuse to take me and my guide, but I have found the opposite to be true. That being said, I did have a driver at first refuse to take me, then reluctantly did so. On my rating after the ride, I gave the driver a “1 star” and rote a short comment explaining what happened. I received a response back almost immediately from a real person, with apologies, a promise to talk with the driver about taking service animals and a credit of the cost of my ride that day. I wrote back telling Uber that this driver had been the exception and that all the other drivers were most accommodating. As far as taxi drivers, I did have a driver refuse to take me and my guide. I filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Relations through the city of Chicago. I never heard anything and when I followed up, I was informed that the driver did not show up for his hearing and there was nothing else that could be done. I have been using Uber so much that I have become a valued customer and this week my rides are 60% off. This makes my short ride to the train station cheaper than a paratransit bus, which we won’t go into the perils of riding that transportation system in this comment! Let’s give Uber a chance to prove they are working to accommodate people with service animals. Uber has been a Godsend for me since taxis in my neck of the woods are limited or nonexistent.

bethfinke On May 13, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Very good point, Kathy, and thanks for taking the time to write this well-thought-out comment. I may contact you privately to see if you might be willing to work this comment into an entire blog post…stay tuned.


Doug Finke On May 13, 2016 at 10:52 pm

We’ve switched to Lyft. But I do t know their position on service animals. I’ll ask.

bethfinke On May 14, 2016 at 9:12 am

Interesting. Why do you go with Lyft over Uber? Mike was just telling me that Lyft allows riders to tip their drivers using a credit card, and by allowing riders to choose to do that, Lyft is getting attention away from Uber. Who knew? Let me know what you learn about service dogs and Lyft. _____

Sheila A. Donovan On May 22, 2016 at 7:21 pm

I sure hope that it applies everywhere, not just California. All I can think of is complaining to Uber if their driver refuses your service dog. There should be a local government office that you can complain to. Good luck!

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