Uber facing probe in San Francisco over drivers shunning guide dogs

Tue May 20, 2014 8:20pm EDT
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By Christina Farr

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - When Jonathan Lyens ordered a car on Uber's mobile app, the driver took one look at his service animal and considered taking off.

"'I don't usually pick up dogs,'" Lyens, who is legally blind, recalled the driver saying. "This driver seemed to have no awareness of disability rights laws."

    San Francisco regulators and the National Federation of the Blind are looking into claims that drivers for the rides-on-demand service have refused to ferry people with service animals. The federation said it has reached out to members to notify them that two law firms are investigating a series of such claims.

The chorus of complaints from the city's blind community are the latest headache for a five-year-old startup whose rapid growth has earned it a valuation north of $3 billion, but also its share of regulatory problems.

The federation will air its concerns during a meeting with Uber next week. Michael Hingson, a member of the California board of directors for the federation who is also legally blind, described the problem as "systemic."

"It's a breach of civil rights," he told Reuters. "Uber ought to be required to obey the same rules as any other transportation service."

Uber isn't the first transport provider the disabled community has targeted. But city officials say it presents a new problem because its size and growth is coming at the expense of taxi services that operate under laws to protect the rights of disabled people.

    "We take this feedback very seriously and will deactivate driver partners from the Uber platform who refuse to transport a rider with a service animal," Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend said.   Continued...

An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, California, December 19, 2013.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson