Your Private Driver: Service with a Bark

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday (not Monday, scheduling issues) after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

As I was driving an older woman on her way to the airport, she began telling me about how much trouble she had trying to get Uber drivers to take her service dog. I didn’t try to defend them, but I did explain that a lot of drivers have been burned too many times by people with fake service animals, and others–particularly if they’re not from the U.S.–are simply ignorant of the laws regarding service animals.

Strangely enough, the topic of being required to accept service animals seems to generate a lot of pushback from some drivers, who angrily pull out their I-watched-L.A.-Law degrees and quote the myriad reasons why they don’t have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: I’m an independent contractor, I’m not a public entity, I have a medical condition, I’m not being paid enough for this, etc. None of those excuses matter in the end, since both Uber and Lyft cite discrimination against passengers with service animals as grounds for deactivation, but people try it anyway.

Uber, for its part, doesn’t seem to be very proactive in getting the message out to their drivers. Despite settling a discrimination lawsuit earlier this year, anecdotally it doesn’t seem like driver behavior regarding service dogs–or the disabled in general–has improved much. They’re probably more worried about a chicken taking a dump in the back seat than they are about helping the disabled.

The chicken incident linked just now (don’t read the comments, just look at the pictures) is one of the risks drivers who are compliant with the ADA have to deal with because of people who abuse the law. I can’t speak for all markets, but in Los Angeles at least it’s something of an epidemic. Since legally a driver can’t ask for any kind of proof that an animal is a service animal, riders just volunteer “Oh hey, here’s my dog, he’s a service animal” and we have to grin and bear it. Of course pets and “emotional support animals” are not entitled to the same protections of the ADA, but there’s no way to distinguish between the two. We can boot out any animal that’s misbehaving or otherwise interfering the safe operation of a moving vehicle, but then a driver is almost guaranteed a confrontationally angry rider to deal with.

Experiences with fake service animals have the side effect of making life harder for those with real ones. Drivers are extra wary after a bad experience or two, and providing proper service to the disabled isn’t likely to be at the top of their minds, threat of deactivation hanging over their heads or not.

Uber and Lyft are notoriously horrible at communicating with their drivers about the rules they have to follow, and passengers with service animals are suffering for it. These companies could stand to go a little further with making sure that all of their drivers know explicitly (not just hidden in a code of conduct) what is expected of them in regards to service animals, and how best to deal with those who are taking advantage of the ADA to bring their pets.

I mean, unless these companies just like being sued. That could be a thing at this point, right?

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber/Lyft driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

One thought on “Your Private Driver: Service with a Bark”

  1. I have a couple of thoughts about this issue.

    1. How do we balance the ADA rights of someone that does need a support animal with the ADA rights of someone with a serious allergy to a dog? I have contact allergies. The most severe is to peanuts, but some dog and cat breeds are a close second. This isn’t take an antihistamine and get through Thanksgiving dinner allergy. This is my skin blisters, I get a sinus headache that makes me double over in pain and empty my stomach, and my breathing can even be compromised reaction. I’ve been lucky the one time I was booked on the same plane as a person using a service dog, it was a longer haired breed that I don’t react to. I am perfectly willing to take a later flight if possible if I am allergic to a service animal (if the airline will work with me), but a spoiled brat Paris Hilton wannabee with the self diagnosed self prescribed animal – NO WAY. I have a cousin with a phobia – they would be peeling her off the ceiling if she suddenly discovered a dog on a plane (seriously she would prefer snakes).

    2. Which brings me to my 2nd point. Why are service animals not regulated and prescribed. When my Mom needed handicapped parking, we had to go through her doctor and the DMV. She had to be in the car, have the hanging sign, and she had a card she had to carry. Why not have a similar procedure for service animals? I’m a teacher and follow many different parenting blogs to get different view points. Several are parents of kids with different special needs have documented the procedure they go through to get a service animal and it is pretty strict – why not simply add a vest/tag and card to the end of the procedure to cut down on the fraud.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *