Taxi/Driver Service Apps Make Traveling a Bit Easier for the Disabled
Nik and I are usually strictly public transit people. But every so often, a cab is necessary. Recently, I broke my foot and had to stay off of it for weeks. This meant that public transit was nearly impossible, so I started trying some of the new cab and driver services. Although I will still largely go back to public transit when I am back on my feet, I am a new fan of these service apps.
Depending on your city and what is available to you, there are several cab/driver apps that may be available in your area. In the Portland area, there is Curb, a dispatching app that works with the local cab company called Broadway Cab. In other cities, it partners with local cab companies there. There is also the driver services like Uber and Lyft. I have not used Lyft yet, but I have used Curb and Uber.
What is most helpful to me with any of these apps is that as a deaf blind person, it eases the often difficult task of communicating with drivers. I never used to like taking cabs very much because I always struggled with communication. It is important information you have to get across! Things like address numbers, directions and dollar amounts and credit card information can be very specific and difficult to communicate when you are deaf, and often your driver may not speak English as his/her first language. The dispatch apps take care of all of those things for you, and this is a great relief to me. You go to the app and put in where you want to be picked up (or if you allow it to, it will find your location using GPS). Then you can also input your destination address and a credit card that will be automatically billed and you can add a tip as well. Once your ride is picked up by a driver, you can then text the driver a note if needed. I might text, “I’m blind and won’t see you. I am out front with a yellow guide dog.” Also, as an added measure of security, you will be given the driver’s name and his/her ETA so you have a better idea when to expect them. Since so many people want to come up and help a deaf blind person sometimes, this gives me an added level of security that I am actually going with the driver. I can ask, “What is your name?” and if it matches and if the cab arrives about when my app says it will, I can be pretty sure I am going with the right person.
The apps also offer GPS service to the driver and you can follow along on your app to see where the driver is going. This can help to make sure you are taking the most direct route and that you are going to the right place. Then, when you arrive at your destination, your fare is automatically paid, so you do not need to worry about handling money or signing credit card receipts. With Curb, you can also pay right there in the cab with a credit card swiper right behind the passenger seat. However, this has limited accessibility for blind and deaf in my experience, so I find it easier to pay through the app. After your ride, you are asked to rate the driver and add any comments. So there is a bit of quality control there as well.
The differences between Uber and Curb are worth noting. Looking at the apps themselves in terms of accessibility, I find the Curb app easier to use, more streamline and more accessible, although the Uber app is completely usable if a little awkward at times. The services themselves, of course, are different in some important ways.
Curb is a traditional taxi dispatching service. It will use the same cab companies and outside the app, works just like calling up a cab on the phone. The advantage of this is that cabs are much more regulated than Uber’s drivers, which we will get to in a minute. The prices are regulated and the cars and drivers must pass certain inspections and licenses. These regulations depend on the city you are in and can be a little different from city to city. Usually the cars themselves are owned and maintained by the cab company. Cab companies are also required to have a certain amount of wheelchair accessible lift vans, whereas, Uber is not at this time. There also may be (these issues are still pending in litigation for Uber) more protections in regards to the ADA and people with disabilities using cabs. Cab drivers cannot reject you due to your disability or use of a service animal or mobility device.
Uber is a service that allows anyone to become a driver using their own car. There are some policies (set by Uber itself) that regulate the drivers and the cars. For example, their cars cannot be more than ten years old and have to pass a mechanical inspection. Prices are often a good deal lower than a cab company, but can change hour by hour due to “surge pricing” which raises and lowers the price based on demand. Drivers work their own hours on their own terms with their own cars, so there is really not a lot of oversight or supervision to assure quality. The only thing you have to rely on there is the voluntary consumer rating and review system. There has also been a lot of complaints from people with disabilities with service animals and mobility devices. There have been complaints that drivers have denied them rides or have treated them poorly. Nik was at a self advocate’s meeting recently where an Uber sales rep was speaking. According to her, Uber drivers are taught in a one day training and orientation that they must not discriminate against disabled riders and that doing so can be an offense that can get them removed as a driver. So, perhaps this will improve with time. There are also no requirements that a certain number of Uber drivers provide wheelchair/lift accessible vans. So if you need that service, you may be out of luck with Uber.
Uber does allow you to pick your general type of vehicle, which cab companies usually don’t allow for. So if you have a large group, you can pick a 7 passenger van rather than a car. You can even request a luxury town car if you desire. Generally, however, the larger and fancier the car, the more you will pay. Uber also has a service called Uber Assist. This should not be mistaken for a wheelchair lift van. It simply means that the driver has taken part in a training to work with people with disabilities and may be willing to provide more services to you, such as walking you to your door or helping to carry your groceries. Ironically, the mechanism to choose this option in the app is a weird slide toggle that is rather inaccessible.
My personal experiences have been that using Curb works great, but the usual cab waits are the same (very long at times.) Even though the app will tell you how long it will be until your cab will come, I have found that it can be a very long wait until your ride request is accepted by a driver. This may differ in different locations and with different cab companies.
I have used Uber 4 times now, and I have not had a problem. I have had to use my crutches, guide dog and even child with carseat in the car, and have had very nice drivers. Uber cars have arrived VERY quickly, and this is one of the main advantages I have seen, in addition to the lower price. One of the hardest things for me about Uber is that the cars just look like normal cars, (even though the app will tell you the make and model of the car showing up). So you need to be very sure that you establish that you are getting into your Uber car with the correct driver. I ask questions to establish that the car model and the driver’s name match what I have been supplied. The cars I have ridden in have been very clean and comfortable, actually cleaner than a lot of cabs.
I would recommend these apps and services. Give them a try and see how they work for you. If you have experiences with these or other taxi app services that you would like to share, please do so in the comments.
Links if you would like to find out more:
(This is not a sponsored post, it is just for information only. Full disclosure: If you use these promo codes, I also get a credit on my account.)
First-time rider promo code: ea8csm9gue ($20 credit on first ride.)
First-time rider promo code: 46N96Z ($10 credit on first ride.)