If Harriet Lowell wants to travel more than just a few blocks, she usually has to plan far in advance. That’s because she’s disabled and uses a motorized wheelchair, and it takes at least 24 hours to schedule a ride with a paratransit van. Where Lowell lives, just north of New York City in White Plains, paratransit vans are the only for-hire vehicles equipped with wheelchair lifts and ramps. That means no quick runs to the grocery store or just dropping by a friend’s house — unless her husband drives her. And when there’s an emergency, like the time her husband was rushed to the ER with a pulmonary embolism, things get complicated. “I couldn’t get there,” said Lowell, who’s 62 years old. “There was nobody to take me.” After that shock, Lowell decided that she — and all people in wheelchairs — should be able to get an on-demand ride like everyone else. She sued Lyft in 2017 in a pending class action suit on the grounds that the company allegedly discriminates against people who use wheelchairs by failing to provide accessible vehicles. At that time, advocacy group Westchester Disabled on the Move also joined the lawsuit. Lowell’s lawyer, Jeremiah Frei-Pearson, said Lyft’s response to the case contradicts the image the company projects of itself. “Lyft tries to present itself as the progressive alternative to Uber,” Frei-Pearson said. But, he added, “Lyft has shown no interest in a resolution. They’ve fought us tooth and nail.” Uber, on the other… [Read full story]
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