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.

Mercedes-Benz Announces Possibility of Driverless Uber Service

Mercedes-Benz is considering expanding its audience beyond drivers who are looking to buy cars– in fact, their newest venture may not include drivers at all.

Dieter Zetsche, owner of Mercedes-Benz’ parent company Daimler, told Reuters about possible plans for an on-demand limo service similar to Uber, except for one huge differentiator: the cars would be driverless. Mercedes-Benz already runs a car-sharing service app called “car2go,” in which people use their smartphones to find and rent nearby Daimler-owned cars, but this is much more exciting. It’s sounds futuristic, but it’s all part of the current race for the first autonomous vehicle to hit the market. The race is probably most popularly championed by Google, which promises to have a self-driving car by 2020. That’s not the greatest news for Mercedes-Benz because their prototype of a driverless car won’t be released in showrooms until 2025 due to liability issues, according to Reuters.

In the meantime, though, Daimler is already making moves. The company joined Audi and BMW earlier this summer in buying HERE, a high-definition digital mapping service created by Nokia. And Zetsche says that driverless cars are a “concrete development goal.”

Other big-name contenders like Audi, Tesla, and Ford are attempting to master the art of self-driving cars as well. But Mercedes-Benz is one of only a few companies that are attempting to combine the concept with a taxi service. Some of their biggest competition? None other than Uber itself.

Uber and its many drivers have a love-hate relationship, thanks to ongoing conflict about drivers’ pay and their statuses as employees in general. (Independent contractors or employees entitled to benefits like gas money and tips? The battle wages on.) For more ease and to save money in the long run, the company has been trying to move toward driverless cars and is currently testing autonomous driving systems. They even created a tech center staffed with a whopping 40-member team of scientists and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University.

Adding to the competition, other short-notice taxi services are popping up in cities, like the Via app that offers $5 prepaid rides from 32nd Street to 110th Street in New York City. Clearly the first driverless service would have a leg up over competing on-demand limo companies. And as Zetsche told Reuters, it would be “even more convenient if the car came to you autonomously.”

But one thing is for sure: Uber drivers provide a uniquely interesting and human experience that driverless cars won’t. One of the biggest appeals of a job with Uber is the amount of interaction you get with new people. It’s a convenient way to learn social skills and hear new perspectives from various customers– but that would take a backseat to this latest venture, where convenience, practicality, and time-saving would rule over all.

New, Affordable Car Service in NYC

Yet another taxi service is to be set to launch in New York City in the upcoming weeks. The new app Via will offer $5 prepaid taxi rides from 32nd Street up to 110th Street. Although a great deal, this service will only be offered from 6:45AM – 9:00PM on weekdays. Also this ride may be subjected to be shared with other Via customers going in the same direction as you.

Even though this trip is stirring up a buzz in New York City, many potential customers are questioning the service due to the idea that it is very similar to a shuttle bus service. The mindset Via is attempting to place is the idea of a reduced fare of a shared trip compared to a solo trip. The idea makes sense to many, but many are still skeptical of idea riding with strangers. Citylab‘s writer explained Via’s ultimate goal, “The company seems to recognize its potential role in the larger transit system. Ramot says that in addition to expanding its basic service to other areas, the company is also looking to partner with transit agencies in smaller cities, where a dynamic-route vanpool option might prove both complementary and cost-effective.”

Ultimately, Via explained the idea of this service was to provide a more personalized experience which is more convenient, safe, and comfortable than taking the bus or train. Also, they are available at the push of a button. This is great service between a taxi and public transportation since it provides the service of a taxi, but will cost you as much as it takes to take public transportation.