Uber has made some splashy headlines recently. The now-totally-legal rideshare company announced a partnership with Spotify, and then got some unwanted attention Monday night when Buzzfeed reported that an Uber executive suggested the company should hire a team of opposition researchers to dig dirt on anti-Uber reporters.
But right here in the Wilson Building, the next Uber rumble—-or at least a legislative clash—-could have to do with handicap-accessible vehicles. Councilmember Mary Cheh is proposing legislation that would require taxicab companies to have at least 12 percent of its fleet be accessible to people with disabilities by the end of 2016. (Less than 1 percent of D.C. taxi fleet is currently accessible, according to WAMU, which reported on the legislation earlier in the week.)
In order to achieve these numbers, the legislation will give tax credits of up to $10,000 to drivers looking to upgrade their vehicles or purchase new wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Uber and Lyft drivers can apply for these tax credits even though the companies themselves are not subject to the 12 percent requirement. Uber is happy with this part of the legislation and wants to see the number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles increased. Uber wrote in a blog post:
Despite our efforts, we face one very significant roadblock in the District: the lack of wheelchair accessible for-hire vehicles. Uber’s ability to connect individuals with drivers who operate accessible vehicles is dependent on the number of WAV vehicles available. Currently, there are approximately 20 wheelchair accessible taxis in the District, but thanks to the For-Hire Vehicle Accessibility Amendment Act of 2014 and other legislative efforts, that number could dramatically increase.
But the legislation also requires that every taxicab company or transportation network company—-which includes Uber—-report the number of people who request disability-accessible vehicles as a way for the city to keep track of the demand for this type of service. Uber has historically done all it can to protect its consumer trip data and, unsurprisingly, doesn’t like this provision of the legislation. The legislation is still in its preliminary stages, and Uber is currently in talks with Cheh’s office, hoping to get this changed.
Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett wrote in an email to City Desk:
We’re all for expanding accessible options within the District, while at the same time not placing excessive regulatory burdens on private vehicle-for-hire companies.
The D.C. Council’s finance committee already passed the legislation, and now it goes to Cheh’s transportation committee. Cheh’s office says the bill is far from finalized, and they are still working out its language and content.
Cheh wrote in a statement:
I introduced Bill 20-889, the “For-Hire Vehicle Accessibility Amendment Act of 2014” on July 14, 2014, and the Committee on Transportation and the Environment held a hearing on the bill on September 30, 2014. Since that time, the Committee has heard from advocates and other interested parties and has received comments about the language in the introduced version of the bill. My office has heard these respective views, and has not yet made any decisions with respect to how the language may be modified. Through these discussions, it is my hope that the Council will pass legislation that will result in a significant increase in the number of wheelchair-accessible for-hire vehicles operating in the District, and provide effective mechanisms to achieve that goal.
Read the legislation below:
Sedan picture via Shutterstock