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Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Thoughts and tips on using Uber with a guide dog
I believe that rideshare services and Uber in particular are the best independence tool for blind people invented this century. As with any such “tool”, especially a disruptive one, there is misinformation and there is room for improvement. The Uber iPhone app is quite accessible. I give them beta feedback and know that they work quickly to fix any small problems that arise as the result of the app evolving regularly. There are plenty of things to improve but the app is accessible and easy to use as you will see from my frequent use below. Tank and Yulie enjoying an Uber ride Here is my perspective on Uber services as a frequent traveler and guide dog user. My wife also uses a guide dog from the Seeing Eye and we are often together with two dogs in an Uber. We have faced only 3 rejections by Uber in our over 700 combined Uber rides. Compare this with our taxi experience where many won’t even stop when they see a dog and others outright refuse to let the dog in the taxi. In my experience in taxis, I face 20% to 40% rejection as opposed to less than 1% with Uber. I know a few guide dog users report much higher rejection with Uber and Lyft and others who have never had a problem. Uber has a 2-strikes and you are out policy. The driver gets one warning and if they reject a service dog a second time, they are removed from the Uber platform. It is easy to report an infraction from within the app or by emailing Support@Uber.com or by replying to the email receipt. In the few times I have had a rejection, Uber Support was emailing and calling me within a few hours. If there was a cancelation charge, it was quickly refunded. My understanding is that all drivers receive an email when they sign up telling them about the service dog policy as well as reminders over time. Of course, not all drivers read and understand these emails so it is inevitable that a few will be uninformed. Uber staff attended several blindness conferences in the past year to hear directly from blind riders and to exchange information about the service including finding ways to make it better. Even 1% rejection is not fun for the person who has to face the inconvenience and humiliation of the experience but I like these odds way better than the random taxi, which might reject my dog and which can be slow in arriving and risky to pay.
There are two types of rejection. Some drivers believe that they don’t have to take a dog in their private car. They might claim that they or their family has an allergy. They might be genuinely afraid of dogs. They may not have read the email or Uber policy saying that these are not reasons to deny a service dog in their vehicle.
I have a few strategies to reduce the likelihood of dog rejection with Uber or Lyft.
1. Check to see if Uber Access is one of the app options. If so, choose the Assist option from the sub-menu and then check the ETA. If the arrival time is reasonable, use Assist as these are top drivers who have had to watch a training video about riders with disabilities. Be aware if you choose Uber Pool, that this is a shared ride and your dog will count for one of the available spots in that car-pool. I tend to avoid Pool in favor of Uber X.
2. When the Uber ETA is about 2 minutes, then use the Contact Driver option to text the following message. “I am blind and have a licensed Guide Dog. Please call out my name when you see me.” I do not phone the driver because they may not hear or understand the difference between dog and Guide Dog. If the message is in writing, they have more time to think about it and you are on record giving them the information. They can’t claim they didn’t understand. I write the text ahead of time and copy it into the iPhone clipboard so it is easy to paste into the Contact Driver text message box. I send the text when the driver is only a few minutes away so they will consider the time and money they will lose if they cancel the ride.
3. I carry a laminated card with the word Uber in large letters to hold up in situations where it might be hard to find me like a grocery store parking lot.
4. I make sure and hold the harness when the driver is approaching so they don’t think it is a pet dog. It is still sometimes necessary to say to the driver, “I am blind. I cannot see. This is my trained guide dog who is very calm and clean.”
5. I believe it is useful to keep the dog on a very short leash when getting in the car so they don’t sniff the driver or get on the seat. Some drivers are terrified of dogs and we can’t change that in 30 seconds. If the dog is quiet and on the floor of the car, the driver can relax and proceed with the ride.
Having the dog on the floor also reduces the dog hair the driver will have to deal with. Grooming the dog before a trip is a good idea. Some drivers may have a sheet or towel to put on the seat or floor. I carry a small sticky roller to pick up hair. Just offering to use this makes the driver feel that I am being considerate. We have to remember that they rate us same as we rate them.
6. Although Uber does not have an option for a tip in the app, I will tip in cash if the driver has to deal with excess dog hair or wet paw prints because of rainy weather.
7. Many drivers are afraid of dogs and may express reluctance when you open the door of their car. I get the dog on the floor quickly so the driver can’t change their mind and I make sure my dog doesn’t sniff them. Once we are rolling, I make casual conversation, which may include information about the dog’s training, flying on airplanes and so forth. I make sure the dog stays put during the ride. I had a driver ask to take a selfie with my dog because he said his wife wouldn’t believe that he had a big German Shepherd 6 inches behind his head for 30 minutes.
My goal by the end of the ride is to convert these concerned drivers into amazed believers. Think of ourselves as ambassadors. I rate almost all drivers 5 stars but I do add comments, both constructive and glowing as appropriate. Those comments are passed along to the driver anonymously. I have even gone to the trouble of filling out the form to recommend a driver for the Uber 6 star award for service above and beyond the call of duty.
Most drivers are courteous and professional, are on time and have nice vehicles. Many do go above and beyond. We have dealt with two family emergencies using multiple Ubers to shuttle us and the kids to the hospital and home. We used Uber 8 times to facilitate our recent trip to Disneyland. As two blind parents, we use Uber all the time to shuttle our kids to and from activities. I have had as many as 5 business meetings in Silicon Valley in a day made possible by timely Uber transportation. I have used Uber in 8 countries and dozens of cities so far. A couple drivers have even become friends. We are willing to put up with the very occasional Uber issue because of their 99% excellence. It is because of this great service that I am willing to do what I can to suggest improvements in the app, to share my experience with other blind riders and to recommend changes that will better educate drivers.