Uber and Lyft Challenged In DC By ATU and Disabled Advocates Over Transport Of Disabled

Uber and Lyft Challenged In DC By ATU and Disabled Advocates Over Transport Of Disabled
Transit Workers, Disability Advocates Sound Alarm as WMATA Proposes Uber or Lyft as Paratransit Provider: A planned proposal from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to contract a successful alternative paratransit program to on-demand providers like Uber or Lyft has transit workers anddisability advocates sounding the alarm. “United Spinal is deeply disappointed that WMATA has chosen to partner with Lyft, a service that has yet to provide an accessible option for wheelchair users,” said Carol Tyson, Director of Disability Policy for United Spinal Association, which last week joined the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Prince George's Advocates for Community-Based Transit, the Montgomery County Union Taxi Co-Operative, the AFL-CIO, and a growing list of co-signers on a letter expressing grave concernsabout WMATA's proposal. ATU Locals 689 and 1764 represent more than 15,000 transit workers in the region, including MetroAccess employees. The proposal would "drive the whole system off the road and into a tree," said ATU president Larry Hanley. The coalition expressed its support for alternative paratransit service and called on WMATA “to ensure a gold standard for accessibility and working conditions for any company providing public transit services.” MetroAccess photo courtesy WMATA

Uber and Lyft Challenged In DC Over Transport Of Disabled
January 28, 2016 Via Electronic Mail

Paul Wiedefeld
General Manager/Chief Executive Officer
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) 600 5th St, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Mr. Wiedefeld,

The undersigned disability rights, labor, social justice and transit equity organizations, and individuals, write to convey our support for alternative paratransit programs. We also write to share concerns regarding a proposal referred to by WMATA staff during Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) meetings this month. MetroAccess eligible individuals in the District now use the Transport DC service to travel anywhere within the District via sedan or wheelchair accessible taxi. Surrounding jurisdictions, and residents, have expressed interest in replicating the program.

We have heard members of the WMATA Board may support similar programs in Maryland and Virginia, but also that there may be interest in allowing transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft to provide alternative paratransit service as well. This is of grave concern to our coalition for many reasons, most importantly because neither company has adequate access to wheelchair accessible vehicles.1 We urge the WMATA Board and staff to consider an alternative paratransit program that: awards access for all; enforces compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA); prioritizes safety; improves working conditions, wages, benefits, and training of employees; and will result in the growth of the local economy and small businesses.

Accessible Transportation Needs and Barriers
DC, Maryland and Virginia area (DMV) residents with disabilities of all ages and backgrounds use the full WMATA public transit system -- bus, rail, and MetroAccess -- every day. DMV residents use WMATA to attend school, take part in religious services, shop, attend medical appointments, vote, work, spend time with friends, and otherwise participate in and contribute to the community. WMATA is often touted as one of the most accessible transit systems in the country, yet significant barriers remain.2

A lack of adequate accessible, affordable housing near transit stops places Metro services out of reach for many. In addition, inaccessible Metro infrastructure such as elevator outages, and broken intercom systems, as well as inclement weather combined with inaccessible bus stops and sidewalks are

1 Currently, Uber provides wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) service in the District through partnerships with taxi drivers, however this may not be a sustainable solution. According to a recent District of Columbia Taxicab Commission Accessibility Advisory Committee (DCTC AAC), as a result of competition, it is common for the numbers of taxis to decrease in a city in which TNCs are operating. A decrease in the numbers of accessible taxis in San Francisco has been attributed to the rise of TNCs companies. In early 2013, there were 100 WAV taxis in San Francisco. There are now only 64. Drivers and companies are no longer purchasing WAV medallions in New York City. The DCTC AAC has expressed concern that the District may face a similar loss. (DCTC AAC 2015 Annual Report)

2 Inadequate accessible transportation is a national problem. Adults with disabilities are much more than twice as likely as those without disabilities to consider inadequate transportation a problem. (Kessler Foundation/NOD Survey of Americans with Disabilities, Harris Interactive, 2010).

significant barriers to Metro for many.3 WMATA is required to provide paratransit and other transportation services to people with disabilities who are unable to use the system because it is inaccessible or due to significant disability.4

MetroAccess Fills a Gap
MetroAccess, WMATA’s paratransit service, fills a gap for those unable to make use of Metro bus and rail. WMATA outsources contracts to six private corporations to provide a necessary and essential door to door service. Customers must reserve their shared ride at least a day in advance. MetroAccess call center workers and drivers are committed to their roles, but are paid substandard wages and face abusive working conditions. Current MetroAccess providers are transportation companies that must be strictly overseen to ensure that safety and anti-discrimination provisions under the ADA are followed.

Alternative Paratransit Solutions: Transport DC
WMATA has partnered with the District Department of Transportation, and the DC Taxi Commission, to provide alternative paratransit service through Transport DC. MetroAccess eligible passengers may call an hour in advance to reserve a single trip (ie, not a shared ride) taxi ride in a sedan or wheelchair accessible van. Transport DC has been in operation a little more than a year and has been hugely successful. In FY15, its first year, Transport DC provided more than 47,000 trips within the District for a $5 flat fee. Ridership continues to increase. For the first time MetroAccess customers had access to quality transportation in case of an emergency. In addition, savings to the DC budget in the 2nd half of FY15 is estimated at 1.8 million.

Customers in surrounding jurisdictions, Maryland and Virginia, have been calling for an alternative paratransit solution similar to Transport DC. Transportation providers in the area such as the MontCo Union Taxi Co-operative (Co-op) have been working towards building a fleet of wheelchair accessible taxis. The Co-op is also developing an app that would allow them to provide quality, accessible taxi service to Maryland MetroAccess customers.

Alternative Paratransit in Maryland: Concerns and Recommendations
In an effort to increase transportation options for Maryland residents, WMATA staff referenced the possibility of a proposal for future service providers at the January 2016 WMATA AAC meeting, and the MetroAccess Subcommittee meeting. We strongly support providing alternative service options to MD and VA residents. Should WMATA choose to provide contracts or work with companies in MD or VA to provide alternative paratransit, we ask that WMATA Board and staff consider the following.

Alternative paratransit service contacts should be awarded to companies that:
1. Prioritize access for all and ensure adequate numbers of wheelchair accessible vehicles are

available. It is our understanding that Lyft has no available accessible vehicles and Uber may not have any in MD, or an adequate supply. Provision of service only to ambulatory passengers (those that do not require a wheelchair accessible vehicle) will create a two-tiered, segregated alternative paratransit system.

3 The Transit Riders for Equity & Accessibility’s Call to Action: Ensure WMATA’s Access to All (10/28/15) provides a select list of issues to address to improve WMATA accessibility.
4 49 CFR § 37.123 (1991)

2. Prioritize working conditions of their drivers and other workers, and prioritize hiring of any MetroAccess workers displaced by the transfer of work to taxi or TNC-based paratransit


programs. Good working conditions and pay will lead to higher quality and consistent service and less turnover, as reinforced in recent reports from the FTA and GAO.

• Prioritize compliance, and accept their role as a transportation provider under the ADA. The ADA provides stringent anti-discrimination guidelines that ensure all passengers, including those with service animals and wheelchairs, are protected. Please consider any outstanding litigation regarding compliance.

• Prioritize safety of the passengers and workers, and accept liability.

• Prioritize accessibility through all of its business lines. Any alternative paratransit contract should be awarded to companies that provide wheelchair accessible service to all of their customers in any region where they do business. Awarding contracts that do not provide access to all WMATA customers sends a message to the riding public that WMATA does not prioritize access.

• In addition, we urge you to consider the possibility of awarding the contract to more than one company. Allowing more than one company, most especially local businesses, to participate will contribute to the growth of the DMV economy, and allows for trips to be shifted in response to growing pains as needed. Providing these contracts to more than one company is considered best practice amongst transit agencies.

Our coalition applauds WMATA’s efforts to ensure passengers’ access to quality transportation options in the DMV. We ask you to adopt alternative paratransit solutions that not only ensure the sustainability of MetroAccess in the long-run, but also benefit the entire community. Send the message that access for all in the DMV is a priority.


Becaye Traore, Board Member, MontCo Union Taxi Co-operative
Charlie Crawford, Member, WMATA Accessibility Advisory Committee (as an individual)
Dennis Butler, Deputy Chair, DCTC Accessibility Advisory Committee (as an individual)
District of Columbia Developmental Disabilities Council
Heidi Case, Project ACTION! Advisor
Julie Piché, CEO, All Access Taxi, LLC
Lawrence Hanley, International President, Amalgamated Transit Union
Mary Jane Owen, Disability Concepts in Action
Nadia Ibrahim, Ms Wheelchair Maryland 2016
Peter Ibik, President, Montgomery County Professional Drivers Union
Prince Georges’ Advocates for Community-based Transit (ACT)
Seth Morgan, Chair, Montgomery County, MD Commission on People with Disabilities (as an individual) Tefere Gebre, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President
United Spinal Association

CC: WMATA Board of Directors