Ride-hail companies introduce health care transportation days after Uber lawsuit

Only days after Bay Area disability rights groups sued Uber over an alleged lack of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, both the ride-hail giant and its competitor, Lyft, announced health care-oriented transportation options.

The companies touted the new services as especially convenient for seniors, though they often include people with disabilities and those who need wheelchair access.

The two services — Uber Health and Lyft’s partnership with Allscripts, one of the top five electronic health records companies in the country — are focused on delivering transportation options to patients with hospital or doctor’s appointments, according to announcements from the companies.

SEE RELATED: Group files class-action suit against Uber for ‘discrimination,’ lack of wheelchair access

Yet, neither company addressed wheelchair-accessible vehicles in their announcements.

“I think this is ridiculous,” said Jessica Lehman, executive director of nonprofit Senior & Disability Action. Uber and Lyft, she said, have shown “a total lack of interest in serving people with disabilities, particularly mobility disability, and a lack of commitment to following the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Senior & Disability Action was not party to the disability class-action suit, which was filed Tuesday by Disability Rights Advocates in Alameda County Superior Court.

Uber Health would provide a “dashboard” for health care professionals to order rides for patients going to and from appointments up to 30 days in advance, according to an Uber blog post on Thursday. The company also touted compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a health care data privacy law, as well as access for patients without smartphones.

Lyft’s partnership with Allscripts will allow Lyft requests for patients from physicians and hospitals using the Allscripts health records system, which the company touts as buttressing its existing efforts with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ascension, Sutter, CareLinx and Circulation health care organizations.

Those services now are largely provided by public institutions, like paratransit vans and publicly subsidized paratransit taxi cabs, which are wheelchair accessible.

Uber and Lyft do not have widely available wheelchair accessible fleets, disability advocates allege.

When pressed, a Lyft spokesperson said on background that discussions are ongoing on how the company can expand to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Uber did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Since 2012, trips taken by wheelchair users on wheelchair-accessible taxicabs have gone from as many as 1,300 monthly to as low as 500 on a monthly basis in 2018, according to data provided by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The trips didn’t decline because fewer wheelchair users requested taxis, the SFMTA said, but because there aren’t enough wheelchair-equipped cabs in The City to provide the needed trips as the taxi industry has diminished.

“We work hard to make sure that people with disabilities, who can’t take Muni due to those disabilities, have a viable public transit option,” said Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesperson. “Service that targets seniors and others who are making healthcare trips should be able to provide access for those who use wheelchairs, which is one of the reasons why The City’s paratransit service has been an invaluable asset to those who use it.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who serves as chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority Board, said he may request a hearing into Uber and Lyft’s reach into the health care sector in The City.

“It is no surprise that Uber and Lyft are finally, years later, trying to address their discriminatory practices after they just got sued for not complying with the [Americans with Disabilities Act]. This is a little too little, too late,” he said.

Peskin added, the SFCTA “has been all over every aspect of the disruptive transportation economy. This will be no exception.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez covers transportation for the San Francisco Examiner. He also writes the weekly political On Guard column. Reach him at joe@sfexaminer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzTheReporter.

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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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