The launch of UberAssist, a service intended for riders with mobility issues, in Ottawa has been greeted with praise and a few concerns.
The service launched on March 23 in Ottawa and offers “door-to-door” service, with top-rated drivers helping riders enter and exit the vehicle. In order to be eligible to drive for UberAssist you must have a driver rating of 4.6 or higher and you must complete a “hands-on in-person educational session.”
The ride sharing company says that UberAssist rides will cost the same as standard Uber fares. The service has the potential to impact the life of thousands of people in Ottawa, including people who do not meet the requirements to take the city’s own transportation service.
Andrea Podruski, program manager for Citizen Advocacy, said that drivers should require more than just awareness training to drive for UberAssist.
“I don’t think awareness is enough. Because when you’re looking at a range of disabilities and a range of different types of people who are going to be using this service,you really want to make sure that you have a true understanding and you’re prepared to respond to different types of situations.”
In addition, Podruski says that drivers will have to revamp their vehicles to accommodate different types of wheelchairs.
“For people with physical disabilities, they often have equipment which is often very expensive and needs to be manipulated in a safe way. For people who have mental health issues they may need, you know, certain types of social support as they’re going for a ride somewhere.”
Sarah Mercer, a 21-year-old who uses a wheelchair because of her spina bifida, scoliosis and osteoporosis, said that UberAssist is a dream come true.
“I use Para Transpo if I have to. You have to plan far in advance to do that, though, so sometimes when I have things that pop up I’m not able to get a ride there.”
Mercer said that she frequently has to instruct the Uber drive on how to dismantle the wheelchair, but she doesn’t mind. Her recommendation is also to offer Uber drives some form of training to teach them the basics.