Like many people who have access to smartphones, I’ve used Uber for years – sometimes frequently, sometimes sporadically – to get my groceries, order meals in, or receive a ride from Point A to Point B. Most of the time, I’ve had excellent drivers with clean vehicles. But a recent experience has caused me to seriously question – when is enough, enough?
It was a Wednesday morning in January. I’d recently returned home from a wonderful trip to visit my family in another province – for the first time in two years. The entire time I was gone – and for almost a week afterward – Alberta was caught in the grip of a deep freeze, with temperatures dipping well below -30 degrees Celsius.
Normally, my commute to work occurs on foot. But with the temperatures being that cold, and the very real risk of frostbite to myself and my guide dog, I decided to take an Uber to work. I booked the ride through the app, got notified of the driver and vehicle assigned to my trip, dressed myself and Jenny (my guide dog) in appropriate layers, put on my mask, and waited for the Uber to arrive.
I should’ve known something was wrong – or at least not quite right – when the driver pulled up across the street from my house. This happens about 50% of the time, because for some reason the GPS units put my house across the street. Normally, the drivers see me waiting, or see the house number, and turn around to get to the correct side of the street. This one did not. Jenny and I crossed the residential street and walked around the front of the Uber to the passenger side. Only then did the driver roll down the window.
*** Please note: The portions of conversation are recalled from the best of my recollections, and may not be exact word-for-word transcription; however, I have stayed true to the spirit of the discussion.
“Did you call an Uber?” the driver asked.
“Yes. Who are you here for?” I asked him.
He confirmed my first name. I moved to open the rear door.
“This isn’t UberPet. You need another vehicle.”
Jenny stood calmly at my side, in her highly visible guide dog harness, lifting her boot-and-baby-sock-covered feet in the cold. “This is a service animal. It is illegal to deny me access.”
*unclear mumbling from the driver*
“Service animal,” I said firmly, reaching to open the door again.
The driver mumbled something else, rolled up the window, and – to my astonishment – drove away, leaving me and my guide dog in the bitter cold.
Two neighbors saw what happened. One offered me a ride to work. It was only when I got into his truck that I saw in the Uber app that another vehicle had been assigned to me. I let the new driver know that I was getting a ride to work, but was having technical difficulties canceling his trip and that I was very sorry. Eventually, I was able to cancel the ride (and was charged $5.25), and made it to work only 90 seconds late.
When I got in to work, I was fuming. Now that I was safe and warm and at work, the full implications of what happened finally hit me. Not only had I been denied service by an Uber driver – something which is well-documented in both the United States and Canada, and for which Uber has recently been ordered to pay one customer for repeated denials – but the driver saw absolutely nothing wrong with leaving someone outside on a day that was so bitterly cold. In very real terms, that driver would rather risk my life than provide me service to which I am legally entitled.
Over the coming days, I reported the issue to Uber, received my $5.25 cancellation fee back, spoke to an Uber representative, and received a small credit – which I decided to put toward my partner’s and my supper after a grueling work day. I figured it was done, a blip on the radar, and I could go about my regular millennial existence.
But now I’m not so sure.
My colleagues – when I told the story a couple of days later – were furious on my behalf. One of them said the driver should get fired. Before Uber came on the scene here, I wrote a blog post on this very topic – and I’m still not sure how I feel about this issue. Uber claims to notify drivers of their legal obligations to transport service animals, and yet I have many friends who frequently experience access denials with their guide and service dogs. Now, the common excuse I’ve heard is that Uber drivers are fraudulently claiming service dog handlers are not wearing masks (as per Uber policy and/or state, provincial, or municipal law). Someone else I know recently experienced an almost identical refusal to mine – claiming that they should have ordered an UberPet (which, by the way, is not available in all locations AND is more expensive). Is the message really and truly getting through? Whether the access denial is due to the perception that a dog is a pet, or drivers think they can lie about riders not wearing masks, the denial to a rider with a task-trained service dog who is well-behaved and under handler control is still illegal in many jurisdictions. Uber seems to think they can throw a few bucks at each rider they’ve denied access to, allow their algorithm to not match that driver with this rider, and they can go on their merry way because they “addressed the issue.”
I realize I’m coming from a place of extreme privilege; I can take my dollars elsewhere. And the more I think about it, the more I’m seriously considering getting out of the Ubersphere. Companies bear the responsibility of following laws, and ensuring those that work for – or are contracted to – them, do likewise. For now, I’m on the fence. But when is enough, enough?
My life is worth living, Uber; the fact that a driver believed otherwise is still chilling to me (no pun intended). I’m thankful the individuals I’ve spoken to about this – both in my local community and with Uber – have understood the seriousness of the situation and dealt with it with compassion and outrage. But Uber, as a company, needs to pay more than lip service and monetary compensation – large or small. Uber can and should do better. You know it, and the disability community knows it. Maybe you should actually do better.
Carol anne said:
That is incredible! How selfish of that driver!
I’m sorry he refused you and jenny access to his vehicle.
Carol anne said:
Reblogged this on Therapy Bits and commented:
This happens all too often! Uber should do better! I’m outraged on this persons behalf!
Read on and please share!
My issues with taxis is the exact opposite. Ever since I started paid employment last year and started using taxis and booking them regularly, I’ve made bookings to the taxis to take me to work the going to work part was okay but it was when the taxi would come and pick me up from work. I’d make the booking and often information wasn’t being passed on and 1pm would come and go and no taxi. I’d invariably have to ring them and chase it up and a car would finally be sent out even if the original driver I had in the morning went out of town. One particular day my boss gave the driver who had come to get me a piece of his mind to be passed onto the taxi boss that forgetting about me was unacceptable especially when I am reliant on taxis so that my parents can have a break and since seeing my specialist 2 weeks ago and december 21st, I’ve had 2 taxi drivers turn up to take me to work only to be told I was on holidays and also that I’d taken some time off work due to the risk of catching covid due to working in a confined space. Thankfully I’m not ill but another taxi booking disaster was before christmas. I was organizing to meet a couple of my support workers for coffee at a caffe and when i rang to check on the booking they had 10 jobs ahead of me so my mother took me which she is happy to do but I do want to give my parents a break and i need to think of what could happen if my parents weren’t around
My comment here has nothing to do with taxi issues. I go out for dinner on alternate friday nights with a support worker through the NDIS or national disability insurance scheme. This particular night the support worker never showed up so i took matters into my own hands and called a taxi and went out for dinner on my own. Was it successful? absolutely! would i do it again in a hurry? not so sure!