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On a Roll

By Paul Bendix

About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Über Alles

Uploaded: Dec 3, 2014
One can only commend the entrepreneurial verve of companies like Uber and Lyft. These firms have revamped ridesharing. Thinking outside the box, they have spurred a new form of semi-public transportation. They're also thinking inside a new sort of box...that being the double-edged way of technology. It's up to us to understand and address the implications.

Try alighting anywhere in the Bay Area...in a wheelchair. No one wants to try this, of course. But trust me, age or fate or some combination of the two can intervene. Anyone can wind up in a wheelchair.

Say you're at San Francisco's Caltrain station and want a ride. First, phone a cab company. Thanks to City incentives, most firms have a few wheelchair-accessible taxis. Yes, the system is antiquated. Yellow Cab's dispatcher will ask for the street address of the Caltrain station. San Francisco has one railway terminus, and its whereabouts is well known to taxi drivers. Nevermind. Glancing at a nearby building will give you an approximate address. Then wait. Of course, this can mean an hour or more. Something like 10% of the City's cabs are wheelchair accessible.

You'd like to grab your smart phone and summon Uber, but that's out of the question. Or is it? After all, it's not impossible for someone with a wheelchair-lift van to be an Uber driver, right? Not impossible, but not very profitable...or likely, that is to say, reliable.

In general, should we worry about this? The question gets to the heart of who we are as a society. America, Europe, Japan...all established industrial societies are aging. The graying of the population means a gradual reduction in mobility. Even without a wheelchair, someone with a walker or cane can cut into an Uber driver's time. Frankly, the mobility impaired are not very profitable.

One way to think outside the box...is to reduce the size of the box. Entrepreneurial ridesharing can actually shrink travel options for a growing section of the populace. It's up to communities to decide what's important. We can encourage innovation...while establishing ground rules that benefit the largest number of people.

What do readers think?
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 4, 2014 at 11:29 am

Uber and Lyft and the like will never be willing to provide transportation for the mobility-impaired. This is what government is for --"to promote the general welfare" by providing services that for-profit companies cannot or will not provide.

If private companies cannot make a decent profit by providing a service that is needed, then the government should provide it. It is in everyone's best interests to see to it that everyone has excellent transportation. This is extremely important. And, yes, our taxes would pay for this -- which is an appropriate use of our tax dollars: serving important human needs that for-profit companies cannot make a profit from.

About Yellow Cab: it is a real shame that they have not joined the 21st century, and actually need a street address for a destination that is as well-known as the CalTrain station in SF. And it is an even bigger shame that you have to wait so long to be picked up/ Again -- proper use of ordinary 21st-century technology should be able to greatly lessen your wait time. But all that technology costs money, which some private companies apparently either do not have or are unwilling to spend.

As Gandhi said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." We in this country need to do a much better job of caring for our weakest members.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Dec 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The other alternative is for the government to provide incentives/premiums for private sector providers to also serve the mobility-impaired community. Government and private sector are not mutually exclusive.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Dec 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Just imagine is mobility-impaired individuals were given a travel voucher that paid the transportation provider 2 or 3 times what they would receive for a non-impaired individual. I can guarantee that the market would respond to that kind of incentive and, compared to our existing non-system, both the total cost would be lower and the quality of service would be higher.

Why not solicit bids from Uber and others to provide such a service?

Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Dec 5, 2014 at 6:59 pm

ADA requires disability access. Does it require to all transportation companies - airlines, buses, trains? What about taxi, limo, Uber etc?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Dec 6, 2014 at 8:38 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" In Chicago, Uber is testing a program that will call up a wheelchair-accessible taxi when the Uber network can?t provide a vehicle. Lyft faces particular challenges because drivers use their own personal cars, which typically cannot accommodate wheelchairs.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, some transportation start-ups have created incentives for their drivers to pick up customers using wheelchairs. Summon lets drivers keep a higher percentage of the fare when transporting customers with wheelchairs, while Wingz lets the driver keep the entire fare."
Web Link

Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I'm glad to hear that these new services are starting to provide rides for people in wheelchairs. Great! I wouldn't expect a service like Lyft that uses peoples' personal vehicles to be able to do this, but if they can at least link to services that do provide rides for people in wheelchairs, that solves that problem.

And I did not think that a public-private partnership would work.

All this is fine, as long as the vehicles pass strict regular federal safety standards and drivers pass strict regular background and DMV checks. Both are essential if safety is to be maintained.

Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 6, 2014 at 1:52 pm

[If only the Almanac would modify the Comments software so we can edit our posts!]

One very important point: transportation is so important that it cannot and should not be left entirely to the private sector. It absolutely must be there, day in and day out, no matter how much money it may lose, as long as the system is designed and provided in a practical and sensible way. I.e. -- don't use 40-passenger buses when much smaller buses would do the job just fine, but please do use 40-passenger buses when the ridership merits them.

Whatever is provided must be provided by the government, as that is the only institution we can trust to be there long-term, for decades upon decades. But it must be operated logically and its only concern must be to satisfy very important human needs - such as safe, decent, reliable, affordable practical transportation. Leaving transportation in the hands of the private sector will no longer work, as the private sector is totally captive to the short-term thinking of Wall Street and its whims. (Privately-operated passenger rail services used to work quite well 60+ years ago, but that was back when long-term thinking was supported, and there was true competition, and before all these awful mergers and the resultant lack of real competition between providers.)

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