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'Systemic issue': Class-action filed against Uber, Lyft alleges lack of accessibility in B.C.


A B.C. law firm has launched a class action lawsuit against Uber and Lyft alleging people with physical disabilities who require wheelchairs or similar devices, have been unable to access the ridesharing services.

The class action was filed at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and names David Sheldon as the complainant. According to the filing, Sheldon is an incomplete tetraplegic who is dependent on a motorized wheelchair for movement. Around December, 2023, he tried to access Uber and was prevented from using their services because they were not wheelchair accessible, as per the filing.

Saro Turner, a lawyer with Slater Vecchio, the law firm behind the class action, said it’s bringing this case forward for two reasons: the first is access to justice, and the second is looking to alter how these companies operate.

“The physically disabled community needs to be able to get around and they need to have fair and equal access, reasonable access, to transportation services,” he said. “Behaviour modification is primary here so that the conduct changes for everybody.”

Uber ordered to pay

Sheldon’s experience is not unique. Earlier this month, the BC Human Rights Tribunal ordered Uber to pay Martin Bauer, who uses a wheelchair, $35,000 after finding the rideshare company discriminated based on disability since it began operating in the region. The tribunal also gave Uber a one-year deadline for providing accessible rides.

Bauer filed a complaint with the tribunal soon after the service launched in B.C. in January, 2020. 

Turner said Baur’s complaint proves the tribunal takes these issues seriously.

“It certainly crystalized that the human rights tribunal is open to compensation in a complaint like this where this sort of conduct is put at issue,” he said.

Helaine Boyd, the executive director of the Disability Alliance BC, said she’s optimistic the class action will be successful.

“This really demonstrates to society and the public at large that this a larger issue than just Martin Bauer and that Uber and Lyft and other ride-hailing services have the responsibility to make changes,” Boyd said.

She added she’d like to see companies like Uber and Lyft consider the needs of other people with disabilities such as those who are visually impaired.

“There have been instances in which people who are blind, people, who are deaf have also been denied access to the ride-hailing services,” she said. “This is a larger systemic issue in which they really need to look at the accessibility of their services.”

‘We comply with local laws’

In a statement to CTV News, Uber said, “Our technology and the transportation provided by drivers has transformed mobility for many people, and we’re continuously innovating to support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities.”

The statement added, “We comply with local laws on accessibility, paying fees and/or having a WAV service available. In BC, the government chose to require rideshare platforms like Uber to pay a per-trip fee relating to accessibility. To date, tens of millions of dollars have been collected from the ride-share industry. However, only a small portion of money has been allocated and only to taxi owner-operators. Ride-share drivers are prohibited from accessing the fund and expanding transportation options.”

The per-trip fee was raised in Bauer's case, but the decision found that it is not something that the company pays "in lieu" of providing accessible services. Instead, it found that the fee was meant to "incentivize" the company to make its rides accessible and did not absolve it of the responsibility of complying with the BC Human Rights Code. 

CTV News reached out to Lyft and will update this story if we receive a response.

Turned said anyone who has a physical disability and requires a wheelchair or similar device and has been denied access to transportation services from either Uber or Lyft in the last few years can contact Slater Vecchio to take part in the class action. Top Stories

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