SINGAPORE: Ridesharing and private car booking service Uber on Thursday (Oct 29) announced the launch of UberASSIST in Singapore, catering to passengers with disabilities and the elderly.
Drivers for the service are specially trained. "We look through all of our driver lists and handpick the top-rated drivers on our system," said Uber's general manager for Southeast Asia Chan Park. These drivers are sent for a one-day training course conducted by LevelField, a consultancy service that advocates an accessible, safe and inclusive environment for people of all ages and abilities.
The course helps drivers understand the needs of the disabled and the various ways of helping them in and out of a vehicle. They also learn about the parts and types of wheelchairs.
UberASSIST driver Sham Mohd said the course was an eye-opener. "I didn't know that we could take out the wheels of the wheelchair, or that the wheelchairs are so light," said the 25-year-old. "I was really surprised by that."
However, LevelField recommends that the dismantling should be left to the person with the disability, access consultant Patrick Ang said, as the person in the wheelchair would know best how to do it.
Local paralympic swimmer Theresa Goh said she is looking forward to her first UberASSIST ride. "I'm glad that Uber has come into the mix in providing an affordable and accessible option for people with disabilities," she said.
She recounted a time when a taxi driver refused to move closer to the kerb so she could get into the vehicle. "He hesitated for a while, and then he waved me off and drove off."
For UberASSIST, Uber has worked with organisations such as the Disabled People's Association of Singapore (DPA) to better understand the needs of passengers with disabilities. "It's good that (Uber is) checking for local context and feedback, even though they have experience rolling this out in other countries already," said DPA executive director Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills.
UberASSIST has been launched in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, London and in Australia.
In Singapore it will cost the same as UberX, billed as Uber's low-cost option. Base fares start at S$3.50 and each kilometre travelled is 80 cents and each minute is 35 cents.
Other local taxi services that cater to people with disabilities include SMRT's London Taxi, which has a wheelchair ramp, and STAREX which has a hydraulic ramp and can accommodate motorised wheelchairs. Base fares for flag-downs start at S$3.90 for these taxis. Every 400m beyond the first kilometre costs 30 cents and thereafter, each additional 350m beyond 10km travelled costs 30 cents. There is also the Maxi Cab service which has a flat fee of S$55.
UberASSIST vehicles do not have wheelchair ramps but can accommodate most folding wheelchairs, walkers and scooters, Uber said. The company plans to add fully wheelchair accessible vehicles to its stable early next year.