Disability charities today welcomed the launch of a new Uber app that allows wheelchair-users to use its cut-price taxis for the first time.
The online cab-booking service had been criticised by campaigners for being inaccessible to all Londoners – unlike black cabs, which can carry wheelchairs.
This afternoon [4pm] it started offering a new Uber WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle) option on its app to enable passengers to book one of 55 adapted vehicles.
An investment in excess of £1 million has seen the vehicles – a mix of Peugeot Partner, Ford Connect and Citroen Berlingo – fitted with a rear-entry ramp, winch and restraint. They can also transport a carer or friend at the same time.
The vehicles are owned by their drivers but Uber is effectively subsising the new scheme by allowing them to retain a bigger share of the fare, which will be the same as paid by other Uber passengers. Uber says its fares are about 30 per cent cheaper than a black cab.
Uber aims to increase the size of its wheelchair-accessible fleet to reduce waiting times, which it predicts will be about 25 minutes in central London and 40 minutes in the suburbs.
Wheelchair-users face challenges travelling in London as only one in four Tube stations are step-free. The new app was created with backing from Scope, Whizz-Kidz and Transport for All charities.
Lexi Porter, 18, an ambassador for Whizz-Kidz, which provides mobility equipment for young people, said the availability of Uber vehicles to get her to and from home in Lewisham would make a huge difference.
Lexi, who is on a gap year before starting a media studies degree at Worcester university, had her first trip in an adapted vehicle yesterday. “It was cool,” she said. “It was easy to get in and the driver was very courteous. It was really convenient for my wheelchair. Safety was all in order.”
She said it would make it much easier to attend festivals and concerts. “It makes it a lot easier to travel longer distances,” she said. “I get more of an opportunity to go out and live my life.”
Whizz-Kidz chief executive Ruth Owen said: “It brings affordability and choice to young people and their families, and more accessible transport. Uber’s new service is a step in the right direction that other providers would be wise to follow.”
Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London, said: “We’re proud to be making one of the biggest-ever investments in accessible private hire in London and will be working hard to keep waiting times as low as possible.”