Larry Flowers - MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – A recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and national board member for the National Federation of the Blind says an Uber driver refused to provide him with a ride because of his service dog.
James Boehm told News 2 it happened in April. He said he informed the driver he was blind so she knew to look for him and his service dog upon her arrival.
According to Boehm, once the driver saw the dog, she said he couldn't get in her vehicle.
Uber has a strict policy about service animals and any driver who refuses could be fired.
"It's very frustrating," Boehm said.
Boehm has hitched a ride with Uber dozen of time before, but this is his first issue.
He had taken his guide dog Shep to the Barfield Animal Hospital in Murfreesboro back in April for an allergic reason and used Uber to get there, arranging for a pickup afterward.
"I had contracted the driver with Uber to let them know I was blind that I wouldn't be able to see them, but if they could please call me or keep out for a lookout for me," he said.
He said he waited and waited for the driver and then couldn't believe his ears.
"Then I heard someone say, ‘you are going to have to get another driver,' and I said ‘why, what's the problem?'" he asked the driver. "She says, your dog is not going to get in my car."
He said he told her Shep wasn't a pet.
"'Well ma'am he's actually my guide dog, I'm blind, my guide dog, I'm blind so he's my eyes," Boehm said. "He's trained to get in the floorboard to condense himself and he won't be any trouble. She said ‘I don't care, you're not getting that dog in my car.'"
Boehm said he also told the driver it's against Title III of the American Disabilities Act and against Tennessee State law to refuse him service because of his guide dog.
He informed the driver that he would have to call the police.
"She said ‘call the police then' and she just squealed off, literally squealed off with her tires and left me there," he said.
Uber has a policy that leaves it to the discretion of its drivers to refuse transport of regular pets, but there is also a policy dealing with service animals.
"Uber expects compliance with all state, federal and local laws governing the transportation of riders with disabilities," Uber spokesperson Colin Tooze said by email. "Service animals must be accommodated in compliance with accessibility laws. Reports of refusing to transport a rider with a service animal will lead to deactivation of the Uber account."
He contacted Uber, who he said will conduct an investigation and he said the person he spoke with apologized.
Boehm and Shep, who both recently walked around the stage at graduation, were given a ride home by a complete stranger who saw the Uber driver refuse him service.
"There's some educating that need to be done," Boehm said. "These places that provided public access like Uber, they need to be educated as well as law enforcement."
He now uses the ridesharing service, Lyft.
Boehm said after an incident at a Smyrna Burger King where a woman with a service dog was asked to leave by management and police, Smyrna police held training for its officers.
The same thing has happened with police after an incident in Kingsport, Tennessee.
He said he in the process of talking with Murfreesboro police about holding training for its officers.