Ridesharing and Service Animals

Do ridesharing drivers have a right to choose who they service? 

Wen Zhai // Contributor 

Ian Kaart // Illustrator

Some Uber/Lyft drivers in Seattle are refusing to pick up people with service dogs, even though under their terms and conditions they are required to respect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and allow service animals in their vehicles. Do ridesharing drivers have a right to choose who they service? 

As I’ve seen fellow students taking the bus with their service dogs to school, I wondered: Isn’t it discriminatory to refuse people with service dogs?  

I consulted the social justice education textbook Is Everyone Really Equal?, where discrimination is defined as “action based on prejudice toward social others,” warning of different forms such as “ignoring, avoiding, excluding, ridicule, jokes, slander, threats and violence”. 

Both the US and Canada have explicit restrictions on discrimination against people who uses service dogs. Discrimination against people with disabilities in transportation is strictly prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), while Canadian laws also prohibit ridesharing drivers from discriminating against people with service animals, including refusal to provide service. 

What if the driver has medical conditions such as asthma and what if the driver has some kind of phobia towards dogs? Ridesharing companies have anticipated many different scenarios and indicated a driver’s expected or recommended actions in their service contracts. All drivers who use Uber and Lyft are well aware that they shouldn’t turn down passengers with service animals—meaning those who are allergic should seek other work elsewhere.  

The service animal policies of both companies make it very clear that it is illegal (similar to not wearing seatbelts) for drivers to refuse service to riders with service animals. Any refusal because of the service animal is a violation of the law and the agreement with ridesharing companies, resulting in penalties upon confirmed allegations ranging from being permanently deactivated from the driver app to being “liable to civil and government penalties.”  

But what if other passengers are allergic or refuse to share with service animals? According to Lyft, that rider “may ask to request a different ride” and the driver may cancel their ride without penalties.   

How does a driver know whether an animal is a service animal, since the animals are not required to wear tags? While the driver certainly can ask the passenger to confirm, Lyft suggests drivers accommodate all service animals since it’s very rare that people will report a non-service animal falsely and those passengers who do so might face deactivation. In practice, drivers technically have the right to turn down non-service animals since there are no legal requirements for this yet.  

With all that being said, laws and regulations only define the baseline of actions. Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft could provide training or at least raise awareness against discrimination towards people with service animals, but personal experiences and feelings always ring louder.  

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