Uber claim that they are ‘always the ride you want’. They say ‘Request a ride, hop in, and relax.’. They make it sound so easy, convenient and practical. Unfortunately, our recent experience with Uber was uber unpleasant. We’re left feeling that they are uber unhelpful, uber unreliable and that their policies surrounding disability discrimination are uber unclear.
On a Saturday just before Christmas, Dan and a few of his friends had spent an evening at one of their houses. When the night came to an end, he ordered an Uber to get home. One of his friends was going to share the ride with him, as he lives round the corner.
When the Uber turned up at the roadside, the driver wound his window down and paused. He looked at Dan and told him that he couldn’t take him. Dan asked why, and the delightful driver said ‘because of the wheelchair’. Dan was unsure what he meant, as having ordered an Uber XL, he knew it wasn’t an issue of space/ the wheelchair being able to fit in. But anyway, he told the driver that if it was a bit of a squeeze to fit the wheelchair into the boot as it was (it definitely wasn’t a squeeze!) then it would quickly and easily collapse and the wheels would come off, turning it into the size of a suitcase.
It’s not all about size…
Choosing to completely ignore what Dan had just said, the driver told him the wheelchair wouldn’t fit in the car. Note: the wheelchair fits in my little hatchback along with myself and three passengers (as well as the multitude of random items like coats, shoes, and the kitchen sink, that seem to live in my car). Dan asked if they could try putting the wheelchair in, telling him that he’d be able get into the car on his own, and that his mates would sort the chair out.
This is when the driver changed his tactic… telling Dan and his friends that he wasn’t ‘legally allowed’ to take him. Knowing that this was bullsh… untrue… Dan explained that he’d had plenty of Uber rides in the past, and he knew that wasn’t the case. After going backwards and forwards a bit more, and with Dan becoming more embarrassed and frustrated, his friend stepped in. Knowing they clearly weren’t getting anywhere, his friend made the point that even if the driver changed his mind, out of principle he wouldn’t want to be his passenger anyway. Before they’d even managed to talk to the driver again, he’d driven off. Marvellous!
Flustered, Dan called a ‘normal taxi’ and fortunately the next driver that turned up was lovely and helpful. Unfortunately, Dan still feeling flustered, managed to leave his phone in the taxi when he got home (but that’s another story!). The next evening when Dan got his phone back, he had a notification from Uber- he was being charged a fee for his ride being cancelled. I mean, what a bloody cheek.
Talking to Uber
On the Monday morning, Dan was busy working, so he asked me if I would call Uber to explain what had happened and request a refund. I made sure that I had their accessibility statement to hand, which says:
‘State and federal laws prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including those accompanied by service animals. Partners using the Uber app agree to follow all applicable laws and Uber’s policies, which state that partners may not deny service to or otherwise discriminate against riders with disabilities.
Any report of unlawful discrimination or ride refusal may result in temporarily deactivating a driver’s account while we review the incident.
Additionally, partners are expected to assist riders using walkers, canes, folding wheelchairs, or other assistive devices to the maximum extent possible’.
So, clearly, this driver was clearly in breach of his contract with Uber and was in no way abiding by the company’s accessibility policies. Upon reading this statement, Dan and I felt empowered knowing that Uber had such a clear stance and that they wouldn’t tolerate drivers like the one Dan had encountered. Positive, right?! But wait, because this was definitely not reflected in my phone call with Uber’s helpline.
When I told the person at Uber what had happened, they offered an immediate refund of the cancellation fee, but no explanation or apology regarding the incident itself. When I politely pointed out that they might be slightly missing the bigger issue, they told me that it was ‘at the driver’s discretion’ as to whether or not they take riders. I questioned whether this discretion could be used to refuse someone based on the fact that they had a disability, explaining that I had read their accessibility statement. They told me that Uber is simply a ‘platform’ for the drivers to use and that therefore the drivers are not employees who must abide by anything. Pardon?
I made it clear that this is not ok and Dan and I weren’t willing to accept it, so I was passed on to someone from the ‘safety team’. This next person pretty much back-tracked on everything I had just been told by their colleague and was apologetic for what had happened to Dan. I asked what would happen now and what steps they would take in relation to ensuring this wouldn’t happen again. Put simply, they wouldn’t tell me. I asked what their policy was in handling such complaints and I was fobbed off with ‘we’ll look into it’. I asked if we could be informed of the outcome of the investigation into this horrible, stressful and embarrassing case of disability discrimination, and the answer was no.
When talking on the helpline, I also informed them that Dan had previously had difficulty in getting an Uber driver to take him. In the past, he’s had a few drivers put up a bit of resistance and question whether the wheelchair would fit in the car. After a little reassurance and persuasion from Dan though, they’ve always agreed to take him. But, he’d never had an incident quite like this last one, and hopefully never will again.
Dan put the complaint in writing, hoping for a better response, but unfortunately it didn’t come. So, for now, I have helped other potential Uber customers by editing and updating their tagline for some clarity…
‘Always the ride you want’ … unless you’re disabled.