UberWAV, the Uber service that provides wheelchair lifts for people in motorised wheelchairs, is available in just 24 of the service’s 570 cities worldwide. Australia’s Newcastle is one of them.
UberWAV in Newcastle is a part of a yearlong trial to test the economic viability of a new service for those living with a disability, looking to get out and about, and save a little money. The service uses fitted out vans and drivers who have received specialised training. Newcastle passengers will use the same smartphone app as regular users and pay the same price as an UberX ride, 30 percent less than the taxi equivalent.
Disability organisations have supported the programme. Chief Executive of the Australian Disability Network, Suzanne Colbert said: “The Australian Network on Disability welcomes the uberWAV service which will expand the transport options for many people with disability. It’s great to see Uber’s focus on drivers knowing how to say and do the right thing to welcome riders with disability.”
Not everyone is happy. Peer Lindholdt, editor of OzCabbie, described the programme as a “strategic scam”. He is concerned that Uber drivers will not be subject to the same level of training or their cars have similar levels of technical protection. “The drivers and the vehicles that will be providing the service are operating illegally, have inadequate insurance, cannot process government taxi subsidy payments and have no security cameras,” he claimed.
According to Uber, the exercise is likely to cost the company money, or at least cut into margins, as Uber will not receive the transport subsidy that the New South Wales Stage government provides to equivalent taxi services.
“We know that state and territory governments invest tens of millions in transport subsidies each year and believe these schemes should be opened up to give people living with disability more choice in how they get around,” said an Uber spokesperson via email. “We’re running this pilot to determine how we can build a viable product that serves the needs of those living with disability.”
While the UberWav trial in Newcastle has signed up 15 cars and drivers, experiences with the service in other cities in the US has shown that UberWAV cars are not always the most reliable option. In May of 2015, CNN reported that the service had zero cars available in San Francisco, Uber’s hometown. In Los Angeles and Portland, there were zero to one cars available, with wait times between 25 and 45 minutes.