Why the Disabled are Suing Uber and Lyft

Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Uber

The ride-sharing services are being sued for allegedly denying service to passengers with wheelchairs and guide dogs.

Ride hailing services Uber and Lyft are on the same side for once: They both deny accusations they discriminate against disabled passengers.

The two companies are named as defendants in a smattering lawsuits from California to Texas alleging they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make their cars handicapped accessible. In some courts, Uber and Lyft are even named as co-defendants in a single case—putting the rivals, awkwardly, in the same boat.

The complaints paint the car service companies—or at least their drivers—as callous to the disabled. One lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind of California, for example, says an UberX driver stuffed a blind passenger’s guide dog in the trunk, and refused to stop the car to let the animal out. Other drivers allegedly refused to pick up blind customers accompanied by dogs.

Another physically disabled woman, Jennifer McPhail of Austin, says in a lawsuit that a Lyft driver left her on the curb because her wheelchair couldn’t fit in the car. The driver then failed to provide alternative transportation.

Meanwhile, other disabled app users are airing their own grievances outside of court. Kristin Parisi, 30-year-old Boston woman who uses a wheelchair, told The Daily Beast that an Uber driver refused to pack her chair into the trunk, for example. So Parisi had to maneuver herself and the chair into the back seat with no assistance, while the driver berated her as an “invalid.”

Uber denies any responsibility by saying it doesn’t discriminate against the disabled and that it can transport blind and wheelchair-bound passengers. It told The Daily Beast that drivers accused of discrimination are usually suspended or fired. Lyft has a similar policy:

It is Lyft’s policy that passengers that use wheelchairs that can safely and securely fit in the trunk of the vehicle or backseat of the car without obstructing the view of the driver should be reasonably accommodated by drivers on the Lyft platform, and drivers should make every reasonable effort to transport the passenger and his or her wheelchair.

Lyft says it is also willing to accommodate service animals. But it recommends that passengers who need them call the driver in advance and let them know–and has a hotline for drivers to call if they have a “medically documented reason” that would prevent them from taking the animal.

Still, the heart of Uber’s defense against the discrimination allegations could not only define its identity as a firm, but set a new precedent for how it and other disruptive tech-based businesses are viewed in the eyes of the law.

Uber argues that as a technology company, it is not subject to laws regulating public transit and other transportation providers, such as the ADA, or “required to provide accessible vehicles or accommodations.”

Still, the U.S. Justice Department recently intervened in the blind plaintiffs’ case to urge that the discrimination accusations be taken seriously. It also requested that the court interpret whether the laws governing other transportation providers should apply to Uber as well.

A decision against Uber could be costly to it and other upstart tech firms that may find themselves classified as belonging to a more traditional industry.

In a Texas case, Uber has already indicated that the cost of making the necessary modifications would be “extraordinary.” The plaintiff in that lawsuit said a driver refused him service and that he could not order an accessible vehicle through the app.

“It would have to modify the Uber App, modify its policies and procedures, and provide wheelchair accessible vehicles in numerous cities,” according to an October court filing.

Indeed, Uber has recently added the ability to order a wheelchair-accessible vehicle using its app in certain major cities like New York and San Francisco. But it’s unclear if or when the option will be available elsewhere.

In the meantime, Eric Lipp, executive director of the Open Doors Organization, which advocates for accessible transportation for disabled passengers, offered this advice in The Daily Beast:

“I think that many in the community do not understand that Uber has nothing against access and the ADA,” says Lipp. “The big problem is that until the courts settle whether Uber is a software company or transportation company the disability community will just have to be patient and try to work with Uber, not against them.”

MONEY freebies

Score Free Rides From Uber, Lyft and Sidecar

Lyft pink mustache
Paul Bersebach—The Orange County Register/Zuma Lyft

Hint: tell a friend

The story of Blake Jareds acts as both travel hack inspiration and a cautionary tale. Last year, the Long Island native was able to rack up $50,000 in Uber credit via referral codes, but that reward was reduced to $500 when Uber took notice of his exorbitant earnings. However, the way he went about it is pretty savvy — first he created his own legit-looking custom promo code (“UBER$20FREERIDE”) to help with search engine optimization, and then he posted that code to Reddit’s eFreebies section, where it picked up viral steam.

Although Uber now has rules in place about making codes available to the general public (beyond your own network reach) or paying to advertise them, we can all take a few tips from Jareds’ approach to snagging free rides on services like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. (After all, even celebs like Lindsay Lohan, Snoop Dogg, and Neil Patrick Harris have gotten in on the action, referring their massive Twitter followers.) And even if you don’t have quite the large fan base that Lohan, Snoop, and Harris do, you can still earn valuable coin toward free rides.

Here’s how each company’s referral program works:


As an Uber user, both you and the new user you refer will receive a $20 credit in your respective accounts. You can even create your own personalized promo code so that it’s easier to remember and share with others. (Here’s a useful primer on referral codes, although it’s written from a driver’s perspective rather than a rider; the advice still works, though.) As of now, there’s no ceiling to the amount of credit you can earn — although it must be earned legitimately.


Like Uber, both referrer and referee get a $20 credit, and a unique personalized referral code can be created. Unlike Uber, Lyft has a lifetime referral ceiling of $15,000 maximum. However, Lyft is currently sweetening the deal with a promotion in 19 of its markets: Refer three friends and get $60 in referral credits, plus $25 in bonus credits. Refer five friends, and get a $100 credit, plus $50 in bonus credits. Refer 10 friends, and get $200 in referral credits, plus $100 in bonus credits.


Through its “Refer-a-Friend” program, new users get $20 in ride credit, while the referring user gets $10 to use toward future Sidecar rides. Currently, Sidecar is only available in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Charlotte, and Washington, D.C. Users can also save up to 50% off by taking advantage of its unique ride-sharing program.

Extending Your Referral Reach

These amounts are often in flux, as each company often runs promotions or adjusts the current amount of credit given. Consider subscribing to the Uber Blog, Lyft Blog, and Sidecar Blog to stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest savings.

Also, think about ways you can pump up your earning prospects by reaching out to your greater network. Are you a blogger? Share your referral code with your readers. Have a lot of Facebook friends? Let them know about your unique code — and reap the rewards! Work at a place that gets a lot of foot traffic? Put out referral cards on your desk or another common area, and watch the referrals roll in. (Here’s more information on how to order snazzy-looking Lyft referral cards and Uber referral cards.)

And if you’re in a market where Lyft, Uber, or Sidecar is relatively new, take advantage of your early adapter savvy by making others the wiser. (Here’s a great blog post from someone who snagged $1,500 in Uber credits by spreading the word when the service came to State College, Pennsylvania.) Unlike some programs, it’s a win-win situation for people on either side of the referral — and you might be surprised at how quickly the credits stack up.

More From Wise Bread:


Uber is One Step Closer to Picking You Up in a Self Driving Car

Uber on mobile phone
Victor J. Blue—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The ride hailing service is testing "mapping, safety and autonomy systems" in a sci-fi car as part of push to eliminate the cost of drivers

Uber users are a step closer to being chauffeured around town in driverless cars.

The ride hailing service has started an early test into “mapping, safety and autonomy systems” as part of a part of plan to automate rides and eliminate the cost of drivers, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times.

The test car was recently spotted on the road in Pittsburgh, where Uber has opened a research lab. The car, with “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” emblazoned on the side, had what appeared to be equipment for autonomous navigation or mapping affixed to its roof.

A spokeswoman for Uber emphasized to Fortune that it is not a self-driving car.

Uber executives have voiced interest in self-driving cars in the past. In recent months, they have poached a group of robotics specialists from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to staff the effort.

Brian Johnson, an analyst for Barclays, said in a report earlier this week that the cost savings of self-driving cars for Uber or any other taxi-like service could be big. Removing the driver would reduce the cost of a ride at 34 cents a mile, nearly 58% cheaper than traditional new cars.

(This story was updated with a statement from Uber and clarification that the company’s car is not self-driving)


Why Some Part-Time Uber Drivers Are Earning Less Money

Uber on mobile phone
Victor J. Blue—Bloomberg via Getty Images

In some cases, drivers must pay bigger fees to the ride hailing service.

Uber drivers must give the ride sharing service a bigger cut of their fares, under a new test by the company.

Some new UberX drivers in San Francisco and San Diego now work under a tiered-fee program that requires them to hand over a bigger share of their fares for certain rides than has been the norm for the popular service, Uber confirmed to Fortune.

Starting last month, this small group of new drivers in San Francisco have had to pay the following fees: 30% for the first 20 rides during any given week, 25% for the next 20 rides, and 20% for the rest. The scale is slightly different in San Diego, requiring fewer rides to hit the next threshold.

Previously, Uber has taken a 20% to 25% cut from all ride fares in those two cities. While it started with a standard 20% fee, Uber has lowered or raised its fee to help attract new drivers and extract additional revenue from established cities. Drivers for Uber’s more high-end services, like Uber Black, Uber Select, and UberXL already pay 25% to 28% in fees.

The company is running this experiment to see how it will impact the supply of drivers on the road, according to an Uber spokesperson.

But with that said, the new model will likely penalize part-time drivers, forcing them to work more to earn what they had in the past. Because Uber drivers have the flexibility to choose how much and how frequently they pick up fares, many drivers use the service as merely an extra source or income or for pocket money.

This is Uber’s first such experiment with tiered pricing, the company said, and it has no current plans to implement it in other cities.

TIME Companies

Lyft Just Secured a Major Investor Against Uber

Carl Icahn, Chairman of Icahn Enterprises participates in an interview at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference in New York City on July 16, 2014.
CNBC—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Carl Icahn, Chairman of Icahn Enterprises participates in an interview at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference in New York City on July 16, 2014.

Carl Icahn cited a much lower valuation versus Uber as one reason for the decision

Activist investor Carl Icahn sees a big opportunity in Uber’s main competitor Lyft.

He just pumped $100 million into the lesser-known ride-sharing startup, according to The Wall Street Journal. A managing director from Icahn Enterprises will join Lyft’s board of directors. The company raised an additional $50 million from an anonymous source, the Journal said.

Icahn told the paper that investing in Lyft was a “no-brainer,” given that it’s being valued at just $2.5 billion compared to Uber’s $41 billion.

Icahn appears to be trying to cash in on the difference between the two companies, or to start a fight with Uber. Yet he appears unfazed: “If you look at the way the market evaluates Uber and then look at the valuation of Lyft—Lyft is a tremendous bargain,” Icahn said in an interview. “There is room for two.”

Lyft president John Zimmer told the newspaper that Icahn’s new role with the San Francisco-based company could prove helpful going forward, and could include him making connections and fundraising. “As we look to the future to raise capital, whether it’s next year or whenever, that’s going to be a large validation,” Zimmer told the Journal.

Icahn’s $100 million investment in Lyft pales in comparison to some of his multibillion-dollar investments in Apple, CVR Energy and eBay, according to the article.

While Uber has an international focus with service in over 250 cities around the world, Lyft is still confined to the U.S., where it operates in 65 cities.

Interestingly, Icahn is now an investor in the same company as Marc Andreessen with whom he had a very public spat last year over Icahn’s fight to have eBay spin off its PayPal unit (Andreessen is on the eBay board of directors). In a statement this morning to Fortune’s Dan Primack, Andreessen joked: “Rumors that Lyft is spinning off the ride-sharing business from the mustache-licensing business are completely untrue.”

Additional reporting by Dan Primack.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Companies

Uber Sued By Man Who Claims It Was His Idea

London Taxi Cabs As Uber Technologies Inc. Blitz Leads To Drop in Black Cab Recruits
Simon Dawson—BloombergGetty Images A user scans for an available vehicle using the Uber Technologies Inc.'s app on an Apple Inc. iPhone 6 smartphone in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Thursday, May 14, 2015.

He says he discussed it with the co-founders before they got funding

A California man says Uber was his idea, and he wants a “significant share” of its value.

The man, Kevin Halpern, said in a lawsuit that he had discussed his business, Celluride Wireless, consisting of a car service ordered by mobile phone, with Uber co-founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp beginning in 2006. Two years later, they presented the concept for Uber at a venture capital conference. He says they never had any written agreements, only oral, but that he mailed himself a letter with details of his concept in 2005, and that the proof is in his safe.

Halpern has been litigious in the past, filing suits against the founder of OfferPal Media and the city of Santa Cruz, Calif., according to USA Today. His lawyer, Christopher Dolan, has represented plaintiffs in several other cases against Uber.

An Uber spokesperson called the claims “completely baseless” and said the company would “vigorously defend against them.”

[USA Today]

TIME Innovation

How the U.S. Can Get Cuba’s Cancer Vaccine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Cuba has a treatment for lung cancer, and now we can get our hands on it.

By Neel V. Patel in Wired

2. There won’t be an Uber for everything.

By Boris Wertz in Fortune

3. Stop climbing Mount Everest.

By Jan Morris in the New Statesman

4. Move over rooftop solar. Rooftop algae can generate power, cut CO2 and produce oxygen.

By Web Urbanist

5. Phantom flushing wastes water, and here’s how to fix it.

By Marika Shioiri-Clark in the Los Angeles Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME apps

Uber Is Now Legal Everywhere in the Philippines

Move follows introduction of world's first legal provisions specifically for ride-hailing apps

The Philippines just rolled out the world’s first framework of regulations for app-based ride-hailing, allowing Uber to legally operate anywhere in the country.

Under the regulations, Uber cars are required to be GPS-equipped sedans, SUVs, vans, or utility vehicles less than seven years old. All Uber drivers will be registered with Philippines transportation authorities.

“We are pleased to have collaborated closely with Uber and other tech companies in crafting regulations for a new class of public utility vehicles,” said Jun Abaya, Secretary of the Philippines Department of Transportation and Communication.

Smooth rides are not guaranteed, however, at least not in the capital. Manila’s traffic is ranked among the top ten worst in the world, according to a 2015 Numbeo traffic index.

TIME Autos

Google Blames Humans for Accidents Involving Its Self-Driving Cars

Google Self-Driving Car
Mark Wilson—Getty Images Google's Lexus RX 450H Self Driving Car is seen parked on Pennsylvania Ave. on April 23, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Its fleet has been involved in 11 accidents in six years

Car accidents can and do occur in self-driving vehicles, but you can’t just blame the computer, Google says.

The tech giant revealed in a post on Medium Monday that its fleet of autonomous vehicles have been involved in 11 minor accidents since first hitting the road six years ago. However, the company says the mishaps, which did not cause any injuries, were the result of human error.

“Even when our software and sensors can detect a sticky situation and take action earlier and faster than an alert human driver, sometimes we won’t be able to overcome the realities of speed and distance; sometimes we’ll get hit just waiting for a light to change,” Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s driverless cars program, wrote. “And that’s important context for communities with self-driving cars on their streets; although we wish we could avoid all accidents, some will be unavoidable.”

Seven of Google’s accidents involved being rear-ended, the company said. Two of the accidents were side-swipes, and one was a collision with a car rolling through a stop sign. Eight of the accidents occurred on city streets.

Google offered the additional data about its program following an Associated Press investigation that found three of Google’s driverless cars have been involved in accidents in California since September. An anonymous source told the AP that in at least one of the incidents, the car was in driverless mode when the accident occurred.

Google’s cars have driven a total of 1.7 million miles (combining manual and self-driven mileage), giving them an accident rate of about 6.5 per million miles traveled. That’s considerably higher than the 2.8 property-damage-only accidents per million miles traveled that involved passenger cars nationally in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, Google is quick to point out that a large number of fender benders and other minor accidents are never reported to police, making it hard to compare Google’s record.

Google has invested heavily in autonomous car technology. It’s racing other tech companies, such as Uber, as well as traditional car manufacturers to bring the vehicles to market. Urmson has said that self-driving cars could be ready for widespread use by 2020.

TIME Companies

Here’s Why Uber Would Spend $3 Billion on Maps

Uber Taxi App In Madrid
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images In this photo illustration the smart phone taxi app 'Uber' shows how to select a pick up location at Cibeles Square on October 14, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.

Maps are essential for driverless cars

Ride-hailing company Uber is willing to pay up to $3 billion for HERE, a Nokia-owned mapping service that competes with Google Maps, the New York Times reports.

Nokia, a Finnish company you probably best know for its trademark and stubbornly infectious ringtone, is undergoing a highly transformative shift. Once a leading smartphone maker, it’s now focusing networking hardware business. The biggest sign of that shift: Nokia sold its handset division to Microsoft for more than $7 billion last year. So it makes sense for Nokia to want to unload its mapping unit, for which it could earn a pretty penny while also increasing the company’s focus.

But why would Uber want a mapping company? Two reasons.

Uber’s backend systems are powered by Google Maps. When you load up Uber’s app and drop a pin for a pickup, that’s Google Maps. When your driver is following GPS directions to your destination, that’s Google Maps too. Uber’s recent moves into shipping packages rather than people signal it’s interested in becoming more of a full-on logistics company, akin more to UPS than your local yellow cab service. For Uber, having its own mapping unit would reduce its dependence on another company — Google — while it continues to evolve.

There’s another factor at play here, too. Uber executives haven’t been shy about their fondness for driverless cars; the company is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to work on the technology. After all, robots don’t strike for higher wages, nor do they assault passengers.

Driverless cars need two things to work. The first is on-car sensors, which constantly monitor for changing road conditions that require an immediate response, like pedestrians and stop signs. The second is maps, which tell the car where to go on a bigger scale. For driverless cars to be feasible, the maps that power them have to be updated constantly. Imagine a driverless car doesn’t know that construction means a bridge is out, for instance: Dead end. Acquiring HERE, then, would help Uber more quickly realize a future where driverless cars get us all from A to B without us batting an eyelash.

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