Uber Sued for Allegedly Refusing Rides to the Blind and Putting a Dog in the Trunk

By Gail Sullivan, September 10

An advocacy group for the blind is suing the app-based ride-sharing service
Uber, alleging the company discriminates against passengers with service
dogs.

The federal civil rights suit filed Tuesday by the California chapter of the
National Federation of the Blind cites instances in California and elsewhere
when blind Uber customers summoned a car only to be refused a ride once the
driver saw them with a service dog. In some cases, drivers allegedly
abandoned
blind travelers in extreme weather and charged cancellation fees after
denying them rides, the complaint said.

The complaint filed in a Northern California District Court cites one
instance where a California UberX driver put a service dog in the trunk and
refused
to pull over when the blind passenger realized where the animal was.

On another occasion a passenger was trying to explain that his dog was not a
pet but a service animal when the driver allegedly cursed at him and
accelerated
abruptly, nearly injuring the dog and striking the passenger’s friend, who
is also blind, with an open car door.

The group said it’s aware of more than 30 times blind customers were denied
rides in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and California
state
law.

As a result, blind passengers are confronting unexpected delays and “face
the degrading experience of being denied a basic service that is available
to
all other paying customers,” the complaint said.

Services such as Uber are quickly supplanting traditional taxis, a service
blind people rely on due to the limitations of public transportation.

The National Federation of the Blind wants Uber to educate its drivers about
disability rights and punish the violators in addition to providing a way
for disabled passengers to immediately register complaints when they are
refused rides because of service dogs.

In a statement reported by the San Francisco Examiner,
Uber said its policy is to terminate drivers who refuse to transport service
animals. “The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options
for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities,”
the statement said.

However, Uber allegedly told some passengers it can’t control what drivers
do because they are independent contractors. The company advised them to let
drivers know about their animals ahead of time, said the Federation, which
filed suit after Uber rejected its request to negotiate a solution.

The group claims the company closely monitors and controls its drivers by
managing payments and services through the app, and by assessing driver
performance
based on customer feedback.

In September 2013,California’s Public Utilities Commission classified UberX
as a transportation provider because it functions like a taxi dispatch. The
commission also said that UberX may not discriminate against the disabled,
the Federation noted.

Figuring out whether to treat Uber like a traditional taxi service or
something else is the subject of heated debate across the country. Taxi
services
are required by federal law to serve the disabled, even if drivers are
independent contractors.

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