Liz Campbell depends on her service dog Barbara to get around town. But when the trip is too long for a walk, Campbell often looks to the same people her sighted counterparts do: Uber and Lyft drivers.
But Campbell, 56, who has been a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for 33 years, says her driver discriminated against her Tuesday when he “deliberately passed us by and later claimed that I must have canceled the trip.”
She took Barbara to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth Tuesday to be there for a friend who had just lost a loved one. When it was time to leave, she asked another friend to wait with her for her Uber.
“It showed that the Uber was eight minutes away, so periodically I had him check the map and track the driver. A few minutes later, the driver drove right past,” Campbell said. “So my friend called him and he came back around. When he drove up he told me, ‘ma’am you must have canceled the trip because I don’t see you on my dashboard anymore.’ And I said, ‘no I did not cancel the trip. You must have been the one to cancel it.’”
Whoever canceled it, that was the moment a resolution could have been reached with the extension of an offer to reinstate the ride. But that didn’t happen, Campbell said.
“My friend got a little argumentative with the driver, telling him, ‘you’re just doing this so you don’t have to take her dog,’” Campbell said. “But the driver said, ‘No, I take dogs. I take dogs all the time. I take all kinds of dogs.’ But he didn’t extend any offers to take Barbara and I, and I told him that I would be filing a formal complaint with Uber.”
She ended up getting a ride home with a friend. Uber spokeswoman Kayla Whaling told the Star-Telegram that the driver Campbell lodged the complaint against had been removed pending an investigation.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to request another Uber, although I would have had to if no one else was around,” Campbell said.
Uber company policy, as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act, leave very little room for interpretation on the issue of riders with service animals.
“Since the law and Uber policies prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and their service animals, refusal to accept them into your car, even once, can result in a permanent deactivation of your Uber driver account,” the Uber policy reads.
Campbell, who is also the president of the Texas Association of Guide-Dog Users, reported the service-animal issue through the Uber app.An Uber representative named Jeffrey replied about six hours later via email, “Thank you for reporting this situation, Elizabeth. We have launched an internal investigation and someone will be in contact with you as soon as possible regarding this matter. We appreciate your patience.”
Both Uber and Lyft have been down this road before.
Uber settled a lawsuit brought against the company by the National Federation for the Blind of California in April 2016. In the settlement, Uber agreed to implement the rule for removing drivers from the platform if they knowingly deny service because a rider has a service animal, as well as increased training for drivers regarding service animals and other stipulations.
Those new rules for Uber drivers went into place in January 2017. Lyft implemented more comprehensive service animal-related rules just three months later, according to Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit corporation.
But that hasn’t stopped additional discrimination reports against drivers.
D’Edra Steele, another Texas resident, is suing Uber because, on “approximately 25 separate occasions” from 2016 through 2017, drivers canceled rides or refused her service after finding out that she uses a service dog for her cerebral palsy, according to The Drive.
In November 2017, Boston police investigated an Uber driver who allegedly told a blind woman he would not give her and her guide dog a ride before dragging her legally blind boyfriend down a city block, according to WBZ-TV. Uber later apologized and removed that driver from the platform.
A month before that, and back in Texas, a legally blind man from Austin complained after he, too, was nearly dragged by an Uber driver who refused him service because of his guide dog, according to KTBC. The company also removed that driver’s access to the app.
Lyft is facing a class-action discrimination lawsuit in the San Francisco area, filed by Disability Rights Advocates, that alleges that the company does not provide enough wheelchair accessible vehicles.
“This is not just an issue that affects blind people,” Campbell said. “Folks with disabilities of all kinds, including vets who have service animals for their PTSD, face the same discrimination.”
Unlike with taxi companies, Uber and Lyft drivers are independent contractors who provide their own cars. Some say this makes it more difficult to ensure good service for people with disabilities than it would be if they were full-fledged employees of the company.