ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – Public listening sessions are being held over the next few weeks to study accessible ride sharing services for customers with disabilities. The New York State Transportation Company Accessibility Task Force was created as part of the legislation that made ride-sharing legal in Upstate New York.
The first and only listening session in Western New York was held Tuesday in Buffalo. They plan to hold four more in Syracuse, White Plains, Albany, and Greenlawn.
Betty DeFazio is the co-chair of the Accessibility Task Force and spent two hours listening to the current concerns of disabled riders.
“From the remarks, we’ll be creating a report and providing that to Governor Cuomo and the legislature so that they can begin to address some of the needs.”
So what are some of the needs from this first session? For Ian Foley, a Western New York Representative of the American Council of the Blind, it’s the voice over technology on smartphones. He said mistakes are hard to correct on ride-sharing apps, even when you call or text ahead of time.
“Other issues are more so, the drivers not announcing themselves when they show up to pick us up,” said Foley. “We don’t know if that’s an Uber or a Lyft car. We don’t know if that’s any other car or if it’s actually our ride arriving. So there’s some training issues that probably need to be addressed in that area.”
The GPS can often be slightly off as well. While that usually isn’t a big problem for most customers, it could be the difference of even getting a ride for someone who is disabled.
Most drivers currently have little to no experience helping customers with disabilities. Brittany Perez is the Director of Outreach and Engagement at the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access at UB. While changes in vehicle designs, app features, and partnerships with local organizations could take time, Perez believes training could provide an immediate impact.
“Whether it’s an online webinar that drivers sign up for,” she said. “Maybe they get an extra credit or they can earn a small amount more if they take on these extra trainings that can help people learn about interacting with clients, better customer service, (or) about what it means to transport someone with a service animal or someone with their mobility device.”
“When you hear companies that are saying, well we’re not a transportation service, we’re a mobility software and they get around meeting the minimum standards that the ADA sets forth for accessible transportations services. Really that’s unacceptable,” Perez said.
But there is a bigger looming problem for disabled customers who live in rural areas when it comes to not just ride-sharing, but transportation in general. There are a lack of options. Restoration Society Program Director Gail McKee said you would be lucky to get a driver to come out to counties like Orleans, Genesee, and Wyoming and even if they did, it would be too expensive.
“Our RTS service that somebody mentioned, that’s what we utilize in Genesee in Orleans counties as well, runs from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.,” McKee said. “There are some Saturday hours, but it very much limits not only employment but social opportunities out in the community that occur in the evenings and on weekends.”
For Foley, lack of transportation was the deciding factor in where he lived.
“I myself grew up in Chautauqua County out in the Southern Tier and came here for schools,” he said. “When it was time to look for jobs, I had to stay in the Buffalo area because that’s where the metro buses were. That’s where the jobs were. Back in the nineties there was no Uber. There was no Lyft. Cabs were extraordinarily expensive. Unless I was going to ride a horse to work, I wasn’t going to be able to get there. So I ended up staying in Buffalo even though my heart is in Chautauqua County.”
Whether or not affordable ride-sharing is a possibility for rural areas remains to be seen, but Perez remains optimistic that solutions can be found.
“We heard from a lot of local partners here in this conversation here who want to be working with the TNC’s and have the vehicles and the service providers and the well trained professionals to do so. But we got to build those bridges with those companies,” Perez said.
The task force behind these listening sessions are made up of representatives from organizations that serve people with disabilities as well as companies like Uber and Lyft. Their final report should appear in front of the state legislature in early 2019.
For those who missed the event but wish to be heard, written comments can be sent to TNCTaskforce@dmv.ny.gov. They will be accepted through Dec. 18.