Uber now offers wheelchair accessible taxis. Is this a big deal?

By Barbara Speed

Uber gets a lot of (mostly deserved) bad press: taxi unions are annoyed that it’s edging other drivers out, while others worry that it offers its drivers poor working condition sand little or no job stability.

But this week, the company did something it’s hard to argue with: it launched a range of wheelchair-accessible cars in London.

“UberWAV” (which stands for “wheelchair accessible vehicle”) is now available on the same menu where riders can choose between UberX, UberExec, and UberPool. It costs the same as an UberX, but comes with enough space to transport what the company describes as a “standard reference size wheelchair. Drivers, meanwhile, will have undergone a DBS check – the same required of teachers and care workers.

The biggest difference is in wait times. Uber says that at least at first, UberWAV customers will need to wait around 25 minutes in zones 1-2, and 40 minutes in zones 3-4 for their car. The service will launch with 55 UberWAV-dedicated vehicles, but a spokesperson told the BBC this number will rise to 100 “in coming months”.

The company worked with disability charities Scope, Whizz-Kidz and Transport for All to develop the new option, and has already launched it in other cities including Toronto.

In London, at least, UberWAV may well offer wheelchair users a uniquely cheap and easy way to get around, if only because the current options are so measly. Black cabs are wheelchair accessible, but they cost around 30 per cent more than an UberX. Meanwhile, London’s public transport network beyond buses is patchy at best when it comes to wheelchair accessibility.

Uber has faced controversy in the past in its handling of customers with mobility issues. Londoner Jade Sharp, who is blind, says she was turned away by nine Uber drivers in a year due to her seeing-eye dog – despite the fact that, legally, assistance dogs must be allowed in taxis and cabs.

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This new move implies that the company is taking its duty towards accessibility more seriously – and taking another opportunity to trump other cab companies, of course.

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