By SAMANTHA MALDONADO
May 2, 2019 06:16 PM EDT
Lyft argues it should not be subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act and is fighting a federal class action lawsuit filed in Westchester County on the grounds that “it is not in the transportation business.”
It’s an argument long employed by app-based companies like Lyft and Uber, and it’s one that experts in the field continue to scoff at.
According to their public filings their mission is to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation,” said former New York City Taxi Commissioner Meera Joshi. “Or maybe it should be improving some people’s lives because throughout the country most passengers that use a wheelchair still can’t get a Lyft.”
Lyft continues to bill itself as a better-behaved version of arch-rival Uber, but this is only its latest effort to avoid government regulations designed to make transportation more accessible to people with disabilities. It’s facing another class-action lawsuit, that one in the Bay Area, claiming the company discriminates against people with disabilities.
In its filings with the SEC in March, ahead of its public offering, Lyft acknowledged its ongoing legal battles against having to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but said it disputes “allegations of wrongdoing and intend to continue to defend ourselves vigorously in these matters.”
“For a company that says they want to do the right thing they should do the right thing,” said attorney Jeremiah Lee Frei-Pearson, who is representing the plaintiffs in the New York class action lawsuit. “Not serving people with disabilities is very inconsistent with the public message that Lyft wants to send as being an inclusive and progressive company.”
Campbell Matthews, a spokesperson for Lyft, declined to comment on the Westchester litigation, but in an emailed statement suggested the company’s notion of “accessibility” is more all-embracing than the one put forth by advocates for the disabled.
“We think about accessibility broadly and know that many who were previously underserved by transit and taxis are now able to rely on Lyft for convenient and affordable rides,” she said.
That argument doesn’t satisfy Harriet Lowell of White Plains who, with Westchester Disabled on the Move, filed a class action lawsuit in August 2017 against Lyft for the company’s failure to equitably serve disabled people in all areas of the country.
Lowell, who uses a motorized scooter, has been unable to use Lyft because of the paucity of wheelchair accessible for-hire vehicles where she lives. But she has a husband willing to drive her around.
“Not everybody has that: people who live alone who are disabled and have less resources than I do,” she said.
Lyft moved to dismiss Lowell’s suit on the grounds that Lyft users agree to solve disputes in arbitration and waive their rights to sue in a class action lawsuit as part of the company’s terms of service. A federal judge dismissed that request.
Now, according to Lowell’s lawyers, Lyft is resisting the judge’s efforts to get the parties to mediate, which the lawyers interpret as an unwillingness to solve the problem.
Without mediation, a protracted legal battle is expected, with Lyft continuing to dispute its obligations under the ADA. That’s more time that Lowell and others with disabilities will not be able to access the company’s cars.
“We just want Lyft to comply with the law and treat people with disabilities equally,” said Frei-Pearson. “There are many different ways Lyft could do this and it’s not for us to dictate which one they use.”
Uber does not provide ADA service in Westchester, either. Frei-Pearson said he and his colleagues have been reluctant to also sue Uber, because there’s already national litigation against the company and it appears to be taking more steps toward accessibility.
Last June, New York City settled a suit with Lyft, Uber and Via over requirements that the companies provide more service to people in wheelchairs. Under the settlement, app-based ridesharing companies in New York City must service at least 80 percent of requests for wheelchair-accessible vehicles in under 10 minutes and 90 percent in under 15 minutes by mid-2021.
While many see that settlement as progress, advocates say the federal class action suit is a way to make the companies accountable on a national scale.
“What I want is for Lyft to make themselves accessible throughout America,” Lowell said. “It’s definitely not about money for me. I’m not in need of money. I’m really in need of a ride.”