A New Car Service in France is Making a Huge Difference to Wheelchair Users

Charlotte de Vilmorin

For most people, using a car service like Uber or Lyft is simple—request a car using your smartphone app, wait a couple minutes for the driver to arrive, get in, and arrive at your destination.

All that changes the second you either are or are with someone who has a physical handicap that confines them to a wheelchair. Unfortunately, most vehicles used by car services aren’t modified for wheelchair accessibility.

One disabled Paris resident got fed up with the lack of accesable transportation and decided it was time for a change.

That’s when Charlotte de Vilmorin founded Wheeliz, a new car-sharing service in France that gives people who use wheelchairs easy-access to modified cars at an affordable price.

I believe the world of startups and innovation is still disconnected from the needs of disabled people. To me, it is essential to create and build a sustainable sharing community dedicated to the mobility problem,” says de Vilmorin.

And Wheeliz doesn’t only benefit those with disabilities, it also benefits the owners of these specialized vehicles. On average, adapted car owners can earn almost $400 a week listing their vehicle on the site.

Currently, big players in the car service industry such as Uber and Lyft are facing several lawsuits in the United States for providing inadequate access for handicapped people. Back in July, Uber attempted to address these concerns by creating UberAssist for seniors and people with disabilities who need trained drivers to help them get in and out of the vehicle. The problem is, because Uber drivers are technically independent contractors, the company cannot require them to own a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. This becomes a huge problem as soon as a driver pulls up to a passenger who uses an electric wheelchair.

There are other car services that offer wheelchair-accessible rentals to disabled drivers, but they can be outrageously expensive. According to de Vilmorin, she’s found services costing up to $1,000 for a 10-day rental. With Wheeliz, handicapped drivers can pay a daily fee of just $55 to $65 depending on the list price of the vehicle.

In the U.S. there is an electric car designed especially for people in wheelchairs, and it has been helping millions of disabled people get to where they need to go. The Kenguru was designed with a pop-up back door and handlebars for steering.

I really believe there is an opportunity there for the collaborative economy and sharing economy to make mobility more accessible for wheelchair users,” said de Vilmorin.

Right now the start-up service is only available in Paris, Nancy, Nantes, and Bordeaux in France, but de Vilmorin wants to expand the business internationally. Her dream is to make it so disabled people around the world can have access to the adapted cars they need to travel with the same ease as anyone else.

When It Comes to Your Car Service: How Far Can You Go?

For many, time is of the essence, and with time comes the need for convenience. Getting from point A to point B in the past for some used to be a task in its own, but thanks to new car services like Uber these problems are in the past. Uber allows you to jump on your smartphone and request a ride and a driver will pick you up shortly and take you to your destination, seems simple enough, until now.

In the recent months, companies such as Uber and their competition Lyft have been questioning on how far is too far from point A to point B. From the get go Lyft implemented a 100 mile limit to how far their drivers are able to drive, but Uber has yet to put their foot down leaving it up to their drivers discretion to chose how far they are willing to drive. After an interview with Forbes, many Uber drivers claimed they actually do prefer longer trips, rather than shorter ones. One driver out of Park City, Utah explained, “Since most of my rides are 35 miles+ to the airport, I have close to 45 minutes to chat with my passengers. I greatly enjoy the time to learn about their career, family, visit, which restaurants they dined at, etc. And as someone that also owns a sales focused business, I feel this is great time to further practice the art of selling.” Many Uber drivers drive on their spare time to earn some extra cash or to kill some time. Like this driver mentioned, it is a great way to keep up with social skills and hear a different story.

Also, according to drivers Uber tends to take more of a percentage on shorter drives. Instead of the usual 20% they have been known to take 40% which Uber drivers do not prefer. Over time Uber is expected to release more specific guidelines on the limits to a drivers distance, but until then a driver can and will take any trip they deem fit.