Seyfarth Synopsis: Massachusetts recently enacted its first statewide ride-sharing law requiring companies like Uber to provide accessible transportation for individuals with disabilities.
On the heels of news that Uber and the National Federation of the Blind (“NFB”) settled their federal court lawsuit in California, which began with a fight over whether Uber is subject to Title III of the ADA as a place of “public accommodation” or a “specified public transportation service,” Massachusetts is taking ride-sharing accessibility matters into its own hands.
Massachusetts enacted its first ride-sharing law last month which – though not the first of its kind – continues the nationwide trend of states and cities implementing ride-share regulations. What is novel is Massachusetts’s specific prohibition on these companies from discriminating against individuals with disabilities, a requirement that they provide wheelchair accessible vehicles, and a mandate that they provide accommodations to individuals traveling with service animals. Massachusetts’s new law is far broader than the recent California settlement, which was limited to only Uber and an agreement to provide accommodations to individuals with service animals.
The Massachusetts law also prohibits ride-sharing companies from charging higher fares or fees to individuals with disabilities and requires that they demonstrate that they have “an oversight process in place” to ensure their compliance with the new law and with all nondiscrimination laws in all “areas” (which is not defined) in which they operate. The law also requires ride-sharing companies to have “established procedures governing the safe pickup, transfer, and delivery of individuals with visual impairments and individuals who use mobility devices, including … wheelchairs, … walkers, and scooters.”
The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (“DPU”) is responsible for drafting detailed regulations to support and enforce this new law and will likely provide guidance to companies as to the “oversight process” and ‘procedures’.” DPU has announced that it looks forward to “implementing one of the most comprehensive ride-for-hire laws in the country to support innovation, public safety, and accessibility for those with special accommodation needs.”
The new law also calls for the formation of a task force, which will include a representative of the Disability Law Center, Inc., a Massachusetts non-profit disability advocacy organization, to consider the establishment of a Massachusetts Accessible Transportation Fund. This Fund will be credited with annual surcharges from ride for hire companies that do not, as determined by the task force, provide sufficient wheelchair-accessible service. The task force is required to file a report with the Massachusetts Legislature of its recommendations and proposed legislation by July 1, 2017.