Nick Muscavage, Albany Bureau
ALBANY — Disability advocates are set to protest Uber on Tuesday at the state Capitol, calling on upstate mayors to stop supporting the company for not catering to disabled riders.
The advocates, hailing from Rochester, the Capital Region and other upstate cities, claim that the for-hire vehicle company has no wheelchair requirements, and should not receive support for an expansion until it does.
Uber and its competitor, Lyft, are seeking a state law to let it operate outside New York City.
“Uber thinks New York’s wheelchair users are second-class citizens, but it’s time to end this shameful discrimination,” Edith Prentiss, chair of the Taxis For All Campaign, said in a statement. “State lawmakers can’t just allow a multi-billion-dollar company to refuse service to hundreds of thousands of wheelchair users.”
While in Albany, the advocates will call for mayors and state lawmakers to reject any proposed legislation that would allow Uber or companies similar to Uber to expand to upstate.
“Upstate mayors should not support Uber until the company starts serving New York’s wheelchair users,” said Denise Figueroa, executive director of the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley, said in a statement.
According to Uber, the company has included features in its mobile application that would benefit seeing or hearing impaired users.
“Uber is committed to making the Uber app accessible for anyone wanting a safe, reliable and convenient way to get around – whether visually-impaired, hard of hearing or a wheelchair user,” Alix Anfang, spokeswoman for Uber, said.
She said Uber continues to expand its offerings.
“We are constantly innovating and exploring new ways to better serve all people with disabilities and, in fact, Uber has been commended by members of the disability community for increasing the freedom and mobility of riders and drivers with disabilities,” she said.
Currently, there are 30,000 vehicles operating under Uber in New York City, according to the advocates’ press release, but none are wheelchair accessible, it said.
The service is still not approved to operate outside of the city.
Some upstate mayors have already voiced support for the expansion of Uber, including Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, who came out in support of the idea in November.
“It was surprising that Mayor Warren supported bringing Uber to Monroe County,” Ericka Jones of the Center for Disability Rights, a Rochester-based group, said in a statement. “Mayor Warren is usually supportive of Rochester’s disability community and she may not be aware that Uber’s service will not be accessible and welcoming to wheelchair users.”
It’s unclear if or when the state Legislature may agree on legislation to let the companies expand upstate.
A bill that is currently in the Senate insurance committee would allow Uber to expand across the state. It’s sponsored by Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, Otsego County, who heads the committee.
The Assembly version has been referred to the transportation committee, where it currently sits, and has nine cosponsors, including Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County,
Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, Endicott County and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo.
Advocates, however, are urging lawmakers to ensure the legislation mandates wheelchair accessibility.
“Allowing Uber to spread statewide without an accessibility mandate would be an even bigger blow to the disability community,” said James Weisman, president and CEO of the United Spinal Association.