Amid the push to make the city’s taxi and rideshare fleet all-electric, disability advocates are concerned wheelchair-accessible vehicles, or WAVs, will be squeezed out.
Eman Rimawi-Doster, a double amputee, was in a wheelchair over the summer, and said it was hard getting a for-hire WAV in the Bronx through the Access-a-Ride E-Hail pilot, which allows users to order an app-based car on-demand, instead of pre-arranging one.
“This was before the Uber was added. I didn’t realize it was coming, it was coming in a week,” said Rimawi-Doster, a senior community organizer at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI). “But I had to pay the full price to get home.”
Disability advocates and wheelchair users who take for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft are concerned that will become more common amid the city’s Green Rides initiative, which has set a goal of a 100% electric or wheelchair-accessible fleet by 2030.
“When there’s the option to choose anything besides wheelchair-accessible vehicles, drivers will choose that other option,” Christoper Schuyler, a staff attorney with NYLPI, said. “Especially since drivers are expected to cover the cost of new vehicles and maintenance.”
Unlike yellow taxis, for-hire vehicles don’t receive a conversion fee or maintenance payments from the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
According to the agency, there are just over 5,600 rideshare WAVs out of nearly 100,000 that must respond to WAV requests within 10 minutes at least 80% of the time.
App-based WAV drivers must be paid 30% more per mile, plus another $180 for 50 trips a week of any kind.
Uber pays an additional $12 per WAV-requested trip. Both Uber and Lyft are now part of phase two of the Access-a-Ride program.
“It’s gotten better since it’s started, the second phase started,” Rimawi-Doster said. “But I’m concerned [about] moving forward.”
Uber and Lyft argue the TLC requirements ensure that their fleets keep a substantial amount of WAVs. In fact, Lyft says 8% of new vehicles onboarded with the app this year were wheelchair accessible. But Schuyler would like to see the TLC do more.
“TLC and New York City has the opportunity to use its market power and submit proposals to car manufacturers with specs about what they want. In fact, they’ve done that in the past,” Schuyler said. “Car manufacturers responded and said we’ll produce this car for you and TLC eventually worked with Nissan.”
But the TLC says it’s unnecessary, because only electric WAVs will be sold by 2035 as New York state phases out the sale of gas-powered vehicles.
In a statement, the TLC says it regularly lobbies vehicle manufacturers and believes they are coming, but so far no one has produced an electric vehicle WAV, as the technology is still new.
Regardless of what powers the WAVs of tomorrow, the agency says the rideshares will still be required to provide accessible vehicles in a timely manner.