Would ride-sharing in Ashland impact the disabled?

MEDFORD, Ore. — After more than a year of discussion, Ashland will once again revisit the issue of ride sharing.

Ashland City Council approved ride sharing earlier this month by a 4 to 2 vote.  Last Monday, Ashland’s mayor sent a letter to Ashland city councilors saying he was vetoing the ordinance.  This was his 2nd veto in 10 years.

Some of Ashland Mayor John Stromberg’s biggest reasons for the veto is to revisit the requirement of vehicle safety inspections and longer criminal background checks.  Wheelchair accessibility and the possible effect of ride-sharing on RVTD and local taxi companies are also some of his concerns.

RVTD general manager Julie Brown said last year RVTD gave nearly 16,000 rides to people with mobility devices.

“One of the things that’s really difficult for people with disabilities and a lot of people don’t realize it is there transportation is very limited in the community,” Brown said.

RVTD operates Valley Lift for people with disabilities.  The service runs Monday through Saturday, from 6 am to 8 pm.  It also requires those needing the service to call 24 hours in advance for those that qualify.

According to HASL Center for Independent Living in Grants Pass, Valley lift, Ready Ride and Dial-A-Ride are the best choices for the disabled.  The organization has clients in both Jackson and Josephine counties.  Of those, only Valley Lift is available to the public in Jackson County because Ready Ride is only for all care members.

“We just refer them to the least expensive place that we can,” said Randy Samuelson, executive director of HASL.  “Transportation, especially in rural southern Oregon, is essential,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons Ashland Mayor John Stromberg vetoed the city council’s approval of ridesharing in Ashland.

But would ridesharing in Ashland impact RVTD or the disabled? Not according to Julie Brown.

“My answer to that is no because the people that we serve are so low income that they couldn’t afford to use Uber and Lyft,” said Brown.

In fact, Brown said a few local taxi companies accommodate the needs of the disabled.

“It’s very difficult to find a taxi in our community that has a wheelchair or lift that will come and get you to take you the doctor,” she said.

Before TNC’s came into the picture, Ashland city code did not require taxi companies to have wheelchair accessible vehicles.

This Fall, the city made changes to allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate. Councilors changed that code to include a mandate stating

Taxi companies and TNC’s must provide service to any passenger with a severe mobility limitation that requests a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

NBC5 News spoke to 11 Jackson County cab companies Monday and only one said it had vehicles equipped for that sort of mandate.

Wheelchair accessibility was one of the elements Ashland City Councilors ended up removing last month with the amended ordinance essentially changing it to be like the one Medford passed in December of 2017.

Medford City Councilor Kevin Stine said there was a lot of concern over how the Rogue Valley’s largest city tackled ridesharing.

“14 months in…we have not seen some of the issues that might have been seen in other places,” said Stein.  “We still have plenty of cab companies and maybe they have even gotten stronger because Uber and Lyft in some ways,” he added.

So far, Stein said it’s working out great.  If that changes, the city will look to make adjustments.

Ashland City Council is set to discuss the issue and vote again on February 19th.  According to the city’s charter, there needs to be a two-thirds veto by councilors to overturn the mayor’s veto.

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