Uber ordered to pay user $35,000 and offer accessible rides in British Columbia

It was the first time a ride-hailing app in Canada was the subject of a human rights tribunal, according to the ruling.

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Uber Canada has been ordered to pay $35,000 to a man who uses a wheelchair after the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal found he was discriminated against because of his disability. The ride-hailing app was also ordered to offer accessible rides to people with disabilities under this week’s ruling.

Plaintiff Martin Bauer received the award “as compensation for harm to his dignity, feelings and self-respect,” tribunal member Amber Prince’s ruling stated.

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“Uber discriminated against Mr. Bauer in the area of ​​services based on physical disability… (and) must provide a wheelchair accessible option in the Lower Mainland within one year of this decision,” he wrote.

It was the first time a ride-hailing app in Canada was the subject of a human rights tribunal.

But Uber said at the 2022 hearing on Bauer’s complaint that it did not violate the human rights code because it is an app and does not provide a service as defined in the code.

The company also said it was exempt from offering accessible rides in British Columbia because of a law that allows Uber and other ride-hailing apps to pay a “per-ride” fee instead of accommodating people with physical disabilities, according to the ruling.

The court rejected both arguments and declared that Uber contravened Section 8 of the British Columbia Human Rights Code, which excludes discrimination on the basis of physical disability and other factors.

Bauer was asking for $100,000 in compensation, but Prince said he aligned the compensation with similar cases.

Bauer could not be reached for comment, but he told attendees that accessible transportation has “huge consequences” and is “particularly important to me as I am currently completely reliant on wheelchair taxis.”

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BC’s attorney general was named as a defendant in the lawsuit and in his filing said that in early 2020 he implemented a fee of 30 cents per ride under the passenger transportation law or regulation as an incentive for ride-hailing apps to provide a wheelchair access. travel option, not to exempt them from offering one.

Uber argued the law and regulation conflicted with the code because it was inconsistent for the province to approve the pre-trip fee for Uber and then face punishment for paying it.

He also said ride fees would be collected by the province and redistributed to increase wheelchair-accessible transportation, and that not all of the money has been used for that purpose.

Uber’s Yanique Williams told the hearing that the province announced in a news release on Feb. 1, 2023, that per-ride fees would be used to help offset the additional costs taxi owners face to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles. wheels, so that the number of said vehicles would increase. increase.

On January 1, 2023, the fare per ride was increased from 30 cents to 90 cents.

In a statement Wednesday, Uber spokesperson Keerthana Rang said in an email that Uber complies with laws regarding accessibility, fare payment and availability of wheelchair-accessible vehicles and that it is reviewing the decision and its transportation options. appeal.

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He also said the province has collected “tens of millions of dollars” in fees from the ride-sharing industry and “only a small portion” has been given to taxi owner-operators. Rideshare drivers can’t access those funds to use to increase accessible rides, he said.

“We continue to urge the provincial government to allocate accessibility fees collected from rideshares toward better accessibility solutions for riders in British Columbia,” Rang said.

Communications director Catherine Pate said BC’s attorney general’s ministry is “reviewing the court’s decision.” The ministry was unable to comment further on Uber’s comments before deadline.

The BC Taxi Association said that for the first time last year, a small number of taxi companies received more than $2 million to purchase wheelchair-accessible vehicles, according to president Mohan Kang.

He said each truck costs $85,000 to buy and convert, compared to about $45,000 for a Prius car. He said they also cost more to operate in gas and insurance, and each trip takes longer to load and unload, so they aren’t as profitable.

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Taxi companies “are 100 percent supportive of Uber also providing (wheelchair-accessible vans) because why not?”

Kang said that people with disabilities “deserve to be served with priority, the community owes it to them.”

Prince said in his decision that he is not aware of any Canadian human rights cases addressing Uber’s services, and “it is surprising” that there is only one in the United States, in which Uber also argued that it did not provide the rides, only the application to connect rides with passengers.

The US district court decision, which ruled on a claim by the Equal Rights Center under US human rights law on behalf of wheelchair users, said Uber “systematically discriminates” against users because they pay more and wait longer for Uber services than others. passengers, dismissed Uber’s argument that it was not a service provider, Prince wrote.

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