Uber has launched its UberASSIST in South Africa, offering transport for people with disabilities. MARISKA MORRIS and Nicole Vergos go along for the ride
A silver Toyota Corolla comes to a stop in front of us. A tall, slender man climbs out of the driver seat and walks up to Nicole and me. Joshua Nhlapo has a 4,85-star rating according to his Uber profile. He smiles broadly at us both. It only took him seven minutes to respond to our Uber request.
Nicole, the owner of Smergos, an online store that provides high-quality wheelchair bags, goes to the rear passenger door, which Joshua has opened for her. He takes hold of the handles of her wheelchair even before she can look over her shoulder to say: “Just hold the chair for me.” Once she is safely in her seat and her wheelchair cushion is tucked in, Joshua snaps up her wheelchair in one swift movement. Within seconds it is in the boot of the car.
Nicole has used Uber before, but this is her first time in an UberASSIST. We are 99 percent sure our readers know what Uber is, but in case you have been living on Mars, Uber is a technology application that connects riders with driver-partners. It helps people get a ride at the push of a button from everywhere and for everyone. Previously, she always explained to the driver how to fold her wheelchair.
UberASSIST is aimed at offering people with disabilities an alternative, affordable mode of transport. On its website, Uber states: “Driver-partners are specifically trained to assist riders when getting in and out of vehicles and can accommodate folding wheelchairs, walkers and service animals.”
“We have been using this system for two months now,” Joshua says, adding that he has lots of customers with different disabilities. His training for UberASSIST took two days and he notes: “Actually, they were picking top-rated drivers.”
His almost five-star rating is somewhat surprising considering he has only been an Uber driver for 10 months, but Joshua is impeccably dressed, friendly and professional.
When we reach our destination, Joshua gathers Nicole’s wheelchair and brings it to her. As she turns in her seat to get into her wheelchair, Joshua puts his arms under hers to offer support.
“I really enjoyed the experience,” says Nicole. “I think that it gives you peace of mind to know that the driver has been trained, knows how to assist you and is more understanding of people with disabilities.”
She adds: “Joshua seemed to handle the wheelchair really well and I like that he offered to help me when I got out of the car. I must say that generally even the [ordinary Uber] drivers were always very helpful. If anything, though, the UberASSIST drivers are more familiar with wheelchairs, and know how to pick them up and fold them.”
Nicole says she will definitely make use of UberASSIST again. (Note: the South African UberASSIST service does not have Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs) with access ramps as in other cities overseas.)
An UberASSIST ride typically costs the same as an UberX. Our trip of roughly five kilometres cost about R55, but the fare will vary depending on distance and time of day. (An Uber will be more expensive during peak-traffic hours.) The UberASSIST vehicles can transport up to four people.
To use UberASSIST, simply download the Uber app from the Apple Store or Google Play Store. Type your destination in and swipe left for the UberASSIST option. Confirm your pickup location and request a ride.
Once a driver has agreed to pick you up, you will be provided with his name, rating and cellphone number. If you have a specific request, you can call him before he reaches the pickup location. Feel free to provide the driver and Uber with feedback about your trip.
Uber drivers and metered-taxi drivers have been in conflict almost since the start of Uber operations. When taking an Uber, be sure to remain safe. Sit in front with your driver when possible and avoid a pickup location that’s close to metered taxis. Report any suspicious behaviour to Uber and the police if necessary.