Lyft, the ride-hailing company that’s striving to revolutionize transportation for the masses, recently launched a pilot program in Los Angeles and San Francisco to serve customers with disabilities.
Lyft joins Uber, which has about 100 wheelchair-accessible vehicles, or WAVs, operating in Los Angeles. Uber is testing its adaptive fleet — vans with lifts or ramps to accommodate fixed-frame wheelchairs and scooters — in several U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Phoenix, and Portland, Ore., and in Britain, India, France and Australia.
If these test runs are successful, this could open a world of travel options for a population that has yet to gain full access to on-demand transportation services.
“At Lyft we think of accessibility broadly and are thrilled to take this next step in expanding mobility options in Los Angeles County,” Anthony Foxx, Lyft’s chief policy officer, said in an email.
The company has partnered with First Transit, a national provider of bus and paratransit services, to operate a fleet of Toyota Sienna vans equipped with ramps and safety tie-downs. Customers can request this by using the Lyft app. The vans can accommodate only one mobility device at a time, plus companions in the seats.
Lyft has similar in-app services available (besides Los Angeles County) in New York, Boston, Toronto, Portland, Chicago, Dallas and Phoenix.
Riders in Los Angeles County can go anywhere within county limits.
Hector Ochoa, who uses a power wheelchair, has booked four Lyft trips since the pilot launched July 9, traveling round trip between East Los Angeles and Downey. He waited 15 to 20 minutes for a WAV each time.
“Which is not bad for L.A.,” Ochoa said.
The service has huge potential benefits to disabled travelers, giving us a convenient way to choose a destination, request a ride and go, which is half the fun of traveling and visiting new places.
A wheelchair user’s ability to do this with any ride-hailing service is hit-and-miss. Quick, reliable on-demand transportation options are limited unless your mobility device can fold up or break down easily to fit in the back seat or car trunk.
Those of us who use heavier power wheelchairs and scooters need vans adapted with automatic lifts or ramps, which are uncommon.
“It’s a start — that’s how we’re seeing it,” Ochoa said of the Lyft pilot. He works as director of public policy for Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living, and helped advise Lyft. “Really, it’s been long overdue, but it’s certainly not where we hope it would be.”
Lyft will collect and analyze data during the yearlong pilot to determine how to scale up if it’s warranted. The WAV fleet is dedicated to Lyft WAV requests, meaning drivers will not pick up other types of fares.
“We’ve seen really good demand in terms of people wanting to ride early morning and afternoon,” said Justin Pate, First Transit’s senior vice president of global business development and marketing.
“Lyft is constantly observing and learning where the need is. They’re moving our vehicles around so they’re staged strategically to meet that demand.”
First Transit owns and operates the fleet of modified 2019 Siennas and provides 60 hours of training to drivers, which includes behind-the-wheel instruction, safety protocols and disability awareness.
“Be vocal, give us the feedback, rate the drivers and let us know how we’re doing,” Pate said. “Bear with us and be patient. We’re calling it a pilot because we want to get it right.”
▶Make sure your driver uses tie-downs to secure your chair inside the vehicle. In fact, insist upon it.
▶If you are new to ride-hailing services, do a test run with a few low-pressure trips when you don’t have to meet a strict schedule. Do not, for instance, test this out to get you to the airport on time until you feel confident about the service.
▶Always have a Plan B. Accessible on-demand transit options are limited. You may have luck requesting a ride on the front end of your trip, only to find there are no drivers available on the app for your return. Line up your alternatives in advance and build in extra time.