I’ve tried and failed to catch an Uber with my puppy. You have to quickly message your driver to ask if they’ll accept you with your pet. My pup and I were rejected repeatedly before giving up and going home. The next time we had to get somewhere I booked a taxi in advance. The taxi driver arrived on time and was happy to help.
Getting around town with a puppy is a pretty niche problem, but what about people who have other requirements, like a child seat or space for a wheelchair?
Taxi companies are required to provide a solution for customers with these needs. But Uber with its slippery relationship to regulation has no such obligations inflating its costs.
Why should the puppyless bear the cost of cleaning Ubers? Fair question…but applying this logic to other kinds of needs reveals a gloomy step backwards in how we treat one another.
For example when you stay at a hotel you pay a little extra to fund a wheelchair ramp that only a few guests need. Airbnb properties don’t have to offer this kind of access. That represents a saving that Airbnb passes on to you in the name of innovation.
Now imagine a future where Airbnb is so successful that hotels go out of business. No properties are required to provide wheelchair access. They only have to uphold a general commitment to inclusion and respect.
Of course there are still a handful of properties in every city that are wheelchair accessible. Low supply plus a captive market equals higher prices – and a niche market is born.
Perhaps a new business starts up to cater specifically to customers with wheelchairs, or guide dogs, or babies, or puppies. In this future everyone is catered to…for a price. The user pays, or stays home.
Distributing the cost of accessibility seems like an achievement that we should be proud of. We need to continue to protect transport and accommodation options for those who don’t fit a standardised mould. Getting around with specific needs shouldn’t be a luxury.
Regulations are not just a ball and chain holding back innovation. Sometimes they can make it easier for us to look out for one another. As we build the future let’s not forget past battles hard won.
Dr Ella Hafermalz is a postdoctoral researcher in Business Information Systems at the University of Sydney Business School.