ALBANY – Former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa is getting into New York’s ride-hailing debate, urging his fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to require companies like Uber and Lyft to make a portion of their fleet accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Harkin, one of the main authors of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, said transportation gains disabled people made in states and the courts have been “eroded” by ride-hailing companies that do not have to abide by accessibility requirements for people with any range of disabilities.
Harkin, in a letter to Cuomo today, reminded the governor of a 2011 measure he approved that set a floor for wheelchair accessible taxis in new "green" car additions to taxi fleets.
Harkin also noted a lawsuit’s settlement that requires half the New York City taxi fleet be wheelchair-accessible by 2020.
“As Uber and Lyft seek approval to operate in Albany, Buffalo and other cities in New York State, I urge you to include accessibility requirements similar or greater than those you negotiated for taxis in 2011,’’ Harkin wrote.
Cuomo sought to get ride-hailing legalized in December, but a special session to take up that and other issues never materialized. Last week, he made the issue part of his State of the State speeches around the state.
Cuomo has called for a task force to study the disabled access issue, a plan advocates say is weak.
Besides rider accessibility, sides in the debate are split over a number of other issues, including whether to require fingerprint background checks of drivers, insurance coverage and if localities would get any say in regulating companies like Uber and Lyft – as is the case in New York City, the only community in New York where ride hailing is legal.
Ride-hailing services in New York City are not required to offer disability accessible vehicles, all of which are privately owned and operated by independent contractors.
“As ride share companies become more and more prevalent, and become a greater share of the transportation network, people with disabilities should have equal access to the use of their services. Without these requirements, people with disabilities will be locked out of an important part of the emerging transportation system throughout New York,’’ Harkin wrote Cuomo.