RIDE sharing giant Uber is using Newcastle as its Australian trial city for UberWAV, its service connecting wheelchair users with fully customised vans.
Debbie Threlfo became the service’s first Australian passenger on Monday when driver Pater Pannys picked her up in Mayfield in his customised Toyota Tarago.
During the year-long trial, Newcastle passengers can request rides in the vans, fitted with wheelchair lifts, on the Uber smartphone app for the same price as an UberX ride, about 30 per cent cheaper than a taxi fare outside of “surge pricing” periods.
“We’re really pleased to be launching our first wheelchair accessible vehicle trial in Australia to help expand transport options for those living with disability in Newcastle,” Uber NSW general manager Henry Greenacre said.
“We’ve heard from those living with disability that they’re under-served by existing transport options and this trial is all about determining how we can best serve their needs.”
Uber chose to test UberWAV in Newcastle because of the city’s large number of passengers who need accessible transport, an Uber spokesman said.
“The size of the city, with dedicated driver-partners, allows us to test the product and make adjustments to ensure we’re offering a reliable and convenient service for locals.”
Uber will rely on passenger referrals from Newcastle disability service providers Castle Personnel, Northcott, Cerebral Palsy Alliance and Life Without Barriers.
The company stands to lose money from the trial because it can’t access government subsidies offered to taxi companies that pick up disabled passengers.
Through the Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme, the NSW government covers half of each wheelchair user’s taxi fare within a $60 limit.
Uber is lobbying the government to extend the subsidy to UberWAV after the Newcastle trial.
The general UberX smartphone service launched in Newcastle in April and was followed in October by UberASSIST, which caters for passengers with walking aids and collapsible wheelchairs.
Uber claims to have 35,000 rider in Newcastle and says it has “had thousands of riders request UberASSIST trips across Australia”.