Tuesday, November 28, 2017

UBER disappointment

Imagine the frustration on my associate's face when she tried to get me a wheelchair accessible Lyft. After all, there's a dedicated section to riders with special needs and everything. Shouldn't be a problem, right?  It's Las Vegas. Can't imagine more visitor friendly, tourism driven place. Wrong. It ended up being a list of taxi companies I can call to come and get me. After all these years of being on my own I got used to the set truth that my transportation options are limited. I also- instead of complaining left and right try to relish whatever little I can do by myself. It's always interesting to see someone else, who never had to deal with something like this, learn what it must have been for me, as they try to find a solution. And for a minute or two we are in the same boat. Surely Uber must have something, right? Here's a funny story. I was trying to get a front desk receptionist at an extended stay establishment at which I was checked in for sixteen days to get me a cab in the morning. Apparently they don't do that, why would life be so simple, but her colleague remembered there was a wheelchair option in his Uber app. I installed it, and by golly, he was right- There was a choice called Uber WAV and it cost $0.00! I quickly assumed this was something that connects you with the local paratransit service using Uber's infrastructure or even some pilot service launched using governmental grants. But at least in Las Vegas, arguably the most touristy place in the world, that wasn't the case. I chose my destination, I chose my ride (WAV) and the price and all it gave me again was a list of taxi companies to call. No data I've put in or selected was given to a taxi company in any way. I call, I describe my location (instead of sharing my GPS) and then I call again to see where the cab is, is it on it's way, does he know where to find me. The retro aspect of it all would have been funny if the situation wasn't as tragic. None of the things which make Uber so attractive were available to me: price, convenience, ability to figure out arrival time, tracking your ride, paying and tipping via app. Instead I was teleported back to the 80's.

I understand that individuals with disabilities are not a huge segment of Uber's client base (although if they ever tried it they might be surprised with the response, but with their revenue I would assume they can come up with something more modern and evolved. Perhaps, if they have to reroute me to a taxi company, they can still offer them a system that puts in the order for me, gives me a price and a time estimate. Who in the XXI century calls to order  a ride? Why isn't there an app that taps into the data of Uber, Lyft, Curb and whoever else to give riders with wheelchair choices and complex solutions.

To Lyft's credit, they're not even pretending they're doing something for people with disabilities. Another interesting encounter I had was with an app called Curb. You can pay for your taxi ride with it and even order one to come get you. A lot of cabs in Vegas seem to be on that system and it seems to pull information from across multiple companies. Very convenient, so now I have it on my phone. There seems to be a lot of handivan taxis in the city. Yet, when it came to ordering one, the only option again was calling the dispatcher. Not booking via app, not tweeting, calling... All this technology, why can't we use it to help people with disabilities. Why can't it make life easier?

And it reminds me why I started the Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation to do precisely that- promote accessibility and inclusion using media, software and technology. Perhaps one day I can sit down with the good folks from Uber, Lyft and Curb to see how we can leverage all that to make people with disabilities more mobile.  Until then, it will be easier for me to order food than get a ride.