The National Federation of the Blind of California is suing Uber, a taxi alternative that employs private drivers in their personal vehicles. The service connects drivers and customers via a smartphone app. Rides with the basic service level are slightly less expensive than a taxi as well as quick and convenient. No money changes hands. The transaction is handled entirely through the app. I have used the service here in the Dallas area and I am delighted with it. I had a little trouble on my very first ride because the driver didn’t really know the area and followed his arrant GPS, but Uber made it right. The taxi companies hate it because it has disrupted the cozy pay-to-play relationship they have developed with most major cities.
Both the genius and the weakness of this system are the same, the reliance on private drivers. The NFB suit alleges systemic mistreatment of blind passengers with service animals. Here’s a brief summary I turned up with a web search. They claim to have been in talks with Uber that have not resulted in an acceptable solution. Given the history of the NFB, I wonder how much effort really went into finding a good solution. The NFB can be an unreasonable bully. I’ll grant you the stories are not good and I don’t doubt these things happened, and Uber’s contention that because they use privately contracted drivers they can do little about it also rings a little hollow.
It seems to me that this problem is easily addressed. There are always going to be drivers who don’t want a dog in their car. It’s the same with taxis. What if the driver is allergic to dogs? Does he or she not have the same rights as anyone else? Instead of trying to bully every driver into accepting a passenger with a dog, why not add a feature to the app that allows the rider to indicate that they need a driver who will? It can be made a feature of the user’s account so that it’s always part of the ride request but can be toggled off if the dog is not present for a specific trip. In fact, a similar feature would be handy anyway. On my first trip, I realized that I was going to have a problem if the driver didn’t know to look for me because I would not see him. I don’t have a dog, but if the driver automatically knew he was picking up a blind person, he could proceed accordingly. The app does allow for a message to be sent to the driver, which is what I did. I do have a little vision, which leads me to another suggestion. The app tells you what kind of car is coming, but not what color it is. The color would help everyone looking for the driver.
It’s too bad we can’t work out our problems without resorting to expensive and harmful law suits. It makes me ashamed. I find myself feeling the need to apologize for all of us who are blind, even though the NFB does not represent even most of us. We have real problems, but if we work together to solve them we’ll all be better off. Compliance is not the same thing as cooperation. Force compliance and no one is happy. The compelled will do the minimum necessary. The compeller will never be satisfied with the results.