Why Current Ride-Share Legislation Should Pass the State Legislature
LCF Adult Vision Rehabilitation Supervisor with her guide dog Keats

Last summer, our adult services supervisor, Judy Mathews, penned an opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel, as a way to educate and inform the public about state and federal laws governing public accommodations for individuals using service animals because of a disability.

Judy wrote this piece after dealing with a series of denial of service incidents by ride share drivers (Uber & Lyft tech platforms) who refused her as a passenger because she was traveling with her guide dog, Keats.

Legislation currently before the state legislature would regulate ride-share companies (aka Transportation Network Companies), like Uber and Lyft in all 67 Florida counties. In this latest piece Judy offers her take on the legislative implications for paratransit and the transportation disadvantaged community.


Several months ago, I used this space to comment on a disturbing trend that was tracking nationally and beginning to creep up locally. Drivers operating on the technological platforms of ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft were unlawfully denying service to passengers traveling with guide dogs.

As someone who is completely blind and uses a guide dog, this issue is of paramount importance to me. This is why I am so heartened at the prospect of a bill passing in the state legislature, which would regulate ride-share companies in all 67 Florida counties.

The bill, titled Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), in both the House (HB221) and State Senate (SB340), focuses on three main components: riders’ safety, minimum insurance standards, and consumer protections.

The measures most relevant to the community of blind and visually impaired codify rules requiring TNCs to adopt non-discrimination policies. Specifically, the bill: (1) requires a TNC to adopt a policy of nondiscrimination with respect to riders and potential riders and to notify TNC drivers of such policy; (2) requires TNC drivers to comply with the nondiscrimination policy and certain applicable laws regarding nondiscrimination and accommodation of service animals; and (3) prohibits a TNC from imposing additional charges for providing services to persons who have physical disabilities.

But let’s be clear here, the issue of service animals is already a settled one. Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and existing Florida law, state and local governments, businesses and non-profit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go--in this case the vehicle of a ride-share driver.

Like countless others around the country, I have, on multiple occasions, been the victim of unlawful denial of service by ride share drivers who were either ignorant of the law or willfully broke it. These humiliating slights should never happen. This legislation unambiguously lays out what is required of a TNC and the drivers who use their platforms. Of course advocates like me, from around the state, have offered ourselves up to TNCs operating locally, to help train their drivers and better sensitize them on how to properly accommodate passengers who are blind and visually impaired, and who may be traveling with a guide dog. If passed, we also pledge to remain vigilant and document any flouting of the law.

Blindness is a disability that often classifies individuals as transportation disadvantaged. According to the Florida statute, Transportation disadvantaged means “those persons who because of physical or mental disability, income status, or age, are unable to transport themselves or purchase transportation, and are, therefore, dependent upon others to obtain access to health care, employment, education, shopping, social activities, or other life-sustaining activities …”

Paratransit systems are often the only realistic means of transportation available to the transportation disadvantaged, and here in Central Florida, that means having to rely on Access Lynx. Because regional paratransit is a shared-ride service that comes with its own challenges, having a fully regulated ride-share alternative, provided by TNCs, greatly increases transportation options by offering flexibility, convenience and on-demand service to transportation disadvantaged communities.

Of course this begs the question, ‘if these communities are so disadvantaged, how many of these individuals can afford the smart phones needed to access the platforms on which ride-share companies operate, let alone consistently pay the fares that ride-share companies charge?’.

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) is currently running an innovative pilot program with ride-share companies, Uber and Lyft, to explore how it could increase accessibility in a more cost effective way and deliver that service in a more convenient way.

According to the MBTA’s press release on the initiative titled the On-Demand Paratransit Pilot Program, ‘ride-share pilot participants will have on-demand service available via their smartphone app or the phone-in option and pay the first $2.00 of the trip. The MBTA will pick up the next $13.00 of the trip, with the customer picking up any remaining trip costs.’

To his credit, new LYNX CEO, Edward Johnson, recognizes the challenges of a shared-ride paratransit system and has publically acknowledged that ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft could play a role in helping make our regional paratransit options more convenient and flexible with their on-demand capacity. This would be a win-win for everyone.