Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.


Because of the recent Minneapolis City Council ordinance that mandated increased pay for drivers of transportation network companies — due for possible revisitation by the council on Thursday — Uber and Lyft have threatened to cease or curtail service in the Twin Cities metro area on May 1. Not only would this leave thousands of drivers out of work, but it also would leave many people who rely on such services for transportation, including many Minnesotans with disabilities, with minimal options.

Last May, when Gov. Tim Walz announced his veto of a bill passed by the Legislature that would have mandated better pay and benefits for Uber and Lyft drivers statewide, he cited concerns about how it would impact Minnesotans with disabilities, specifically those who use the Dakota County GoDakota Lyft program to get to and from work. Since then, Uber and Lyft have also used people with disabilities as part of a campaign to convince Minnesotans they care about their riders with disabilities.

I am a deafblind Minneapolitan who uses Uber and Lyft often to get to parts of the metro area that are not easily accessible using Metro Transit. While perhaps the Minneapolis City Council members should have considered how their vote would impact Minnesotans with disabilities, I reject the use of Minnesotans with disabilities as a scapegoat for why Uber and Lyft can't pay their drivers a fair wage. Uber and Lyft might say they care about their riders with disabilities, but their actions over the past several years have suggested otherwise.

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that taxi services provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) as part of their vehicle fleets. Uber and Lyft have insisted that they are technology companies, not taxi services, so they don't need to comply. Although several states and cities mandate Uber and Lyft to provide equitable WAV rides, Minnesota does not. When legislators tried to pass WAV requirements in Minnesota, Uber and Lyft aggressively and successfully lobbied against them. Minnesotans who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids have literally and figuratively been left out in the cold.

Not only are wheelchair users excluded from Uber and Lyft services, there are almost no comparable alternative options. The Star Tribune reported that in 2015, there were 1,385 registered taxis in Minneapolis. However, Uber and Lyft's entrance into the market undercut taxi providers and ran many of them out of business. Today, only 14 registered taxis are left in Minneapolis, and most are not WAVs.

So, if Uber and Lyft want to really show their commitment to Minnesotans with disabilities, they must provide WAV rides in their apps and ensure that the wait times for WAV rides are comparable to non-WAV rides. Accessibility is a right and an obligation, not an option.

Trevor Turner is public policy director for the Minnesota Council on Disability.