Smaller TNCs struggle to fill gap in accessibility after Uber, Lyft leave


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Many ridesharing companies are not complying with the TNC ordinance Austin voters approved in May.

Transportation Networking Companies’s operating in Austin are required to be accessible for people with disabilities with specific benchmarks to meet. Some disability advocates are feeling left out after those benchmarks were not met.

Boone Blocker has been fighting for accessible options in Austin for more than a decade. Most of the time he takes the bus. Before Proposition One, he used UberAccess to have drivers pick him up when buses weren’t running. He says he usually waits less than twenty minutes.

“UberAccess was a great leap forward and I was sad to see it go,” said Blocker, who has chaired Capmetro’s accessibility board.

Since Uber and Lyft left town, Blocker says the smaller TNC companies filling the void either don’t have accessibility components or don’t have the drivers to pick him up quickly.

“We’re not asking for free rides. We want to give people our money to drive us around,’ said Blocker.

According to the City transportation department, half of the TNCs operating in Austin don’t have a way to pick-up people in wheel chairs and less than half have turned plans to the city.

Councilwoman Ann Kitchen was the main driver at City Hall behind the ordinance. She tells KXAN all of the TNC’s are working “in good faith” with the city and if that changes the city does have the power to revoke their license. She wants the city to work with the companies so they don’t have to use such a drastic measure and take another TNC off of Austin streets.

“The city is also committed to working with TNCs to bring them into compliance. That’s why you don’t just go, ok, here you missed the deadline and the next day we’re taking your permit. That’s why we work with them through a reasonable amount of time to get them into compliance,” said Councilwoman Kitchen.

She says she understands the delay because many of the TNC companies sprang up after voters approved Prop. 1. But she says adding fines could be a possible route if the problem persists.

But in the meantime, Boone Blocker says he has fewer reliable options to get around town.

“Where’s the service. I’m still waiting for that answer,” said Blocker.

There are already two companies in Austin facing lawsuits over failing to serve people with disabilities.

The National Federation of the Blind of Texas sued “Fare” and GetMe for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.. by not having the proper technology to pick up people who are blind. In September, both companies told us they were working on upgrading their mobile app but GetMe insisted they were not breaking the law.

This could all be changed during the next legislative session.

Senator Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, has already filed a statewide ridesharing bill. In that bill, it would require all TNCs to have accessibility options. If a company doesn’t, it could face a $20,000 dollar fine. That money would then be used for grants to contract with other accessibility companies.

“There is a mechanism in the bill to make sure individuals with disabilities are addressed, either through the provision of that service or through the payment of a fee structure or fine structure,” said Sen. Schwertner.

Lawmakers begin their work at the capitol this January.The accessibility sections of the Austin TNC ordinance reads as follows:

(A) Within six months of obtaining a TNC operating authority, a TNC shall implement an accessibility plan approved by the director. If a TNC has an existing accessibility plan on file in another jurisdiction, the TNC must adapt that plan for use in the City.(B) Within three months of obtaining a TNC operating authority, an accessible service request indicator must be available on the app. If a driver cannot provide a passenger a requested accessible ride, the TNC must identify an alternative transportation arrangement for the passenger.

According to the City of Austin Transportation Department, the following companies are not in compliance.

Uber is not in compliance with Article (A) but is not operating in the city after council passed and voters approved Proposition One.

The company responded to this story with, “Prior to ceasing operations in May, Uber was pleased to connect riders to wheelchair accessible vehicles through UberACCESS. On July 15, we submitted a report to the city which included our plan for continued accessibility compliance. We look forward to the day where we can bring back UberACCESS to all of Austin’s residents and visitors.”

GetMe is not in compliance with Article (A). KXAN reached out for a response but has not yet heard back.

Wingz is not in compliance with Article (A). KXAN reached out for a response but has not yet heard back.

ZTrip is not in compliance with Article (A). KXAN reached out for a response but has not yet heard back.

Fare had until Nov. 24 to meet the requirement for (A) but is not compliant for (B).

Fasten had until Nov. 25 to meet the deadline for (A) but is not in compliant for (B). Because of the holiday weekend, the city could not tell KXAN whether these companies have become compliant.

ReDriver Tech has until Dec. 1 to meet the requirement for (A) but is not compliant for (B).

Ride Austin has until Dec. 13. Joe Deshotel, Director of Community Engagement for RideAustin tells KXAN, “RideAustin is working on a comprehensive accessibility program, and as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, we look forward to bringing the convenience of ridesharing to the entire Austin community.  We are in discussion with providers of ADA compliant vehicles, and among other efforts, have applied for a grant in conjunction with the Community Care Collaborative to help address the “The Transportation Barrier” that exists between many patients and their healthcare providers.”

ScoopMe has until December 14th to meet the requirement for (A) but is not compliant for (B). John Montgomery from ScoopMe says they will be discontinuing operations November 30th.

Tride has until December 15 for (A) but is not in compliant for (B). KXAN has reached out to all the companies but has not heard back.

InstaRyde is not in compliance with Article (B).

Lyft is compliant with all accessibility standards, but is not operating in the city after Proposition One was approved by voters in May.

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