Disability advocates feeling left behind as Lyft launches

As the city prepares to welcome a second app-based ride service to Ottawa, advocates say they're distressed that people with disabilities are once again being left out.

People in wheelchairs likely to be excluded from second major ride-hailing company

Lyft is recruiting drivers in Ottawa as it prepares to pick up passengers in its second Canadian market, after Toronto. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

As the city prepares to welcome a second ride-hailing service, advocates say they're distressed that people with disabilities are once again being left out.

Lyft announced plans Monday to launch in Ottawa as a competitor to Uber. When Uber arrived in 2016, the company sparked major changes to the city`s ride-for-hire legislation. 

Both companies bill themselves as cheaper alternatives to traditional taxis and allow passengers to track their ride using a smartphone app. Since the rides are offered using drivers' personal vehicles, they rarely accommodate people with mobility devices like wheelchairs and scooters.

Instead, Uber pays seven cents per ride to an accessibility fund to be spent on other city initiatives to improve transit accessibility for people who can't use those services. Lyft will likely follow suit when the service launches in a few weeks.

"We're quite upset about it," said Bob Brown, with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

Accessibility charge not enough

The city is legally obligated to make sure regulated services like rides-for-hire provide reasonable accommodation to all people and the surcharge doesn't accomplish that, Brown said.

"If they can't provide the service then it's my belief that the city never should have approved it," Brown said.
Bob Brown, who gets around with the help of a wheelchair, said the city's plan to have companies pay into an accessibility fund doesn't compensate for the lack of service. (CBC)
The city collected $450,000 for the accessibility fund since Uber was legalized in 2016. Right now the city is soliciting feedback on how to spend that money.
It basically amounts to nothing,- Bob Brown, Council of Canadians with Disabilities

At one of the public feedback sessions hosted by the city, the city's manager of emergency and protective services told the crowd it may seem like a lot of money, but half a million dollars goes quickly.

"It basically amounts to nothing," Brown said.

Province hasn't responded

The surcharge is also voluntary because the the province hasn`t given the city the authority to impose an accessibility levy against companies like Lyft and Uber. The city asked for permission to do that but so far the province has not responded.

That means there's no guarantee the companies will continue to pay, so there is only so much that can be done with that money. Certainly it isn't enough to create an accessible alternative to Uber or Lyft.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities claims that means the city and the companies are violating human rights legislation.

Lyft still mulling accessible service

Lyft is still negotiating the details of its accessibility service with the city, and won't completely rule out the possibility of providing accessible rides in Ottawa.

"We're still working on all the different modes we're going to be operating, we operate a lot of different types of ride services," Aaron Zifkin, with Lyft said.

There will be more details about what Lyft has planned closer to the launch of the service in Ottawa, which is expected in a few weeks.