Uber now offers wheelchair accessible taxis. Is this a big deal?

Part of London's new UberWAV fleet. Image: Uber.

Uber gets a lot of (mostly deserved) bad press: taxi unions are annoyed that it's edging other drivers out, while others worry that it offers its drivers poor working condition sand little or no job stability.

But this week, the company did something it's hard to argue with: it launched a range of wheelchair-accessible cars in London.

"UberWAV" (which stands for "wheelchair accessible vehicle") is now available on the same menu where riders can choose between UberX, UberExec, and UberPool. It costs the same as an UberX, but comes with enough space to transport what the company describes as a "standard reference size wheelchair. Drivers, meanwhile, will have undergone a DBS check – the same required of teachers and care workers.

The biggest difference is in wait times. Uber says that at least at first, UberWAV customers will need to wait around 25 minutes in zones 1-2, and 40 minutes in zones 3-4 for their car. The service will launch with 55 UberWAV-dedicated vehicles, but a spokesperson told the BBC this number will rise to 100 "in coming months".

The company worked with disability charities Scope, Whizz-Kidz and Transport for All to develop the new option, and has already launched it in other cities including Toronto.

In London, at least, UberWAV may well offer wheelchair users a uniquely cheap and easy way to get around, if only because the current options are so measly. Black cabs are wheelchair accessible, but they cost around 30 per cent more than an UberX. Meanwhile, London's public transport network beyond buses is patchy at best when it comes to wheelchair accessibility.

Uber has faced controversy in the past in its handling of customers with mobility issues. Londoner Jade Sharp, who is blind, says she was turned away by nine Uber drivers in a year due to her seeing-eye dog – despite the fact that, legally, assistance dogs must be allowed in taxis and cabs.

This new move implies that the company is taking its duty towards accessibility more seriously – and taking another opportunity to trump other cab companies, of course.


Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.

There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).