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Another Voice: Ride sharing will benefit disabled and aging New Yorkers

By Denise Bienko

Aging members of our communities and families managing disabilities need better transportation options.

Many families living with disabilities are low to moderate income, with limited or no access to vehicles, and as we age, driving starts to disappear as an option. But responsibilities remain, like filling an empty fridge or getting to a doctor’s appointment or job. Self-sufficiency is important regardless of age or ability – which means being able to get where we want, when we want. Today in Buffalo, that’s not possible.

That’s why organizations representing people with disabilities and special needs support removing the restrictions that prevent ride-sharing programs like Uber and Lyft from serving New York’s upstate communities.

Ride sharing allows ordinary citizens to earn extra income by using their own cars to provide a taxi service hailed by mobile device. That means on-demand access to an affordable, reliable, door-to-door ride to and from a doctor, a store or an office. Ridesharing boosts local economies while bringing transportation access to underserved areas and residents. It has made millions of Americans in 45 other states more mobile, improving comfort and quality of life.

A series of insurance and licensing laws prevent Uber and Lyft from operating uniformly in New York State. Legislation to lift those restrictions was put before the State Senate and Assembly a year ago. We need our lawmakers in the New York State Legislature to act now.

Skeptics have attempted to stall this important piece of legislation by questioning the accessibility of ride sharing. Ensuring that wheelchair users are able to use ride-share services is an important and critical principle.

Lyft and Uber drivers are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and both companies work at local levels to ensure they meet the demand for wheelchair-accessible rides. While this question needs ongoing attention, it’s no reason to maintain the ban on a service vitally needed in our communities, not least by households managing disabilities.

It’s precisely because Lyft and Uber would expand access to transportation for all that a number of advocacy groups representing the disabled support the call for lawmakers in Albany to lift the ban on ride share. The campaign even has the support of former California Rep. Tony Coelho, who wrote the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Uber and Lyft won’t solve all of the problems confronting our aging and disabled population. But there’s no doubt that they’ll lighten the load, making lives more comfortable and manageable by putting amenities more easily within reach – all without adding new burdens to the taxpayers. That’s why we need the Senate and Assembly to act swiftly, and do the right thing.

Denise Bienko is vice president of People Inc.