Technology

Uber drivers accused of turning away guide dogs

Three guide dogs wearing high visibility jackets Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption No ride: people with guide dogs say they are being turned away by Uber taxi drivers.

The ride-sharing firm, Uber is being taken to court over allegations that its drivers are discriminating against people with visual impairment.

The National Federation for the Blind of California is one of those bringing the case which cites at least 40 instances where drivers have refused to carry guide dogs.

Uber said drivers are told to comply with all laws relating to the carriage of service animals.

It said the claims have no merit.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption In most cases taxis must take guide dogs at no extra cost

'No dogs'

The case against Uber includes two instances in which Uber drivers allegedly yelled "no dogs" at riders.

In another instance an Uber driver allegedly refused a blind woman's plea to pull over once she realised the driver had locked her guide dog in the boot of his car.

Aaron Zisser, a lawyer for Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, California, which helped bring the case, said:

"Uber is a very popular service, and it is important for riders with service animals to be able to use it like anyone else,"

Legal wrangle

Uber supervises drivers who wish to use their own private vehicles to offer a taxi-like service and who use the company to find potential passengers.

It had argued that the case should not be allowed to be brought by a group of individuals and institutions but rather that each should seek arbitration separately.

It added that it was "on the cutting edge of expanding accessibility" for the disabled.

But US Judge Nathanael Cousins has allowed the case to be heard and gave Uber until 2 May to formally respond to the complaint.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption UK charity Guide Dogs said refusal to transport guide dogs can be upsetting and embarrassing to owners

James White from UK charity, Guide Dogs, said dogs being refused transit is a significant problem in the UK.

"Far too often we hear about guide dog owners being refused access to taxis.

"This is extremely upsetting, embarrassing and frustrating for the person involved.

"Such discrimination can prevent people with guide dogs from getting out and about with confidence.

"Without the appropriate legal exception it is a criminal offence for minicabs and taxis to refuse a passenger who is accompanied by an assistance dog."

Global firm local laws

The UK's Royal National Institute of Blind People added that taxi drivers had very few circumstances where they could refuse carriage:

"In the UK .. taxi and private hire drivers have to carry guide dogs and assistance dogs at no extra cost to the passenger."

"Drivers who have a medical condition that means they are unable to assist passengers or carry dogs in their vehicle may apply for an exemption from these duties."

The case is the latest lawsuit of many faced by Uber globally.

Last week a Berlin court upheld a decision taken last summer to ban Uber from operating because its drivers did not comply with public insurance requirements.

The question for Uber and the courts in many of these cases is to what degree liability for complying with local laws should rest with Uber and how much drivers using the service to find passengers should be responsible for.