In June 2013 I posted a blog to this site titled Promoting Van Rental Opportunities
. In that blog I complained about the failure of mainstream car and van rental companies to provide ramp or lift-equipped vehicles in their extensive fleets and, when or if they did provide them, to rent them at comparable rates to those passenger or cargo vans available in their fleets at the same time.
After the blog was posted it was time for follow-up. I did not expect much of a positive response to my blog or follow-up activities, and that is exactly what I got.
My first step had been to publish the blog after doing some initial research, and I did that after making inquiries about whether any car-rental companies provided wheelchair vans or if they had any relationship with the companies that did rent them. Since there are plenty of marginal car-rental companies (years ago, before I was disabled, I even used a cheap one called Rent-a-Dent), I confined my searches and correspondence to the largest companies. After all, they have combined worth in the billions of dollars and each company rents trucks, exotic sports cars and similar high-powered vehicles for its customers who want to pay a higher fee to rent them.
I also took the extra step of inquiring through the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association
and a few of its members who I know rent vans, and some of the wheelchair van rental companies, to see if any of them had any type of formal relationship with those big car-rental companies. Once again, not surprisingly, none of them that I reached had a contract in place.
I then left telephone messages on customer relations telephone numbers found on the car rental company websites, with similar questions. I actually did get a couple of return calls and one automated email message thanking me for my inquiry and stating that they cannot afford to put wheelchair vans in stock because there wouldn't be enough demand for them to justify the extra expense of purchasing them and making them available at their scattered rental sites.
Follow-up letters went out to the top four companies; it was fairly easy to key on them because of the amount of national advertising they do and the listings for them on the stock exchange and in business journals. I found that there are subsidiaries involved as well, so revenue reporting may not be as clear as if it was a single company renting vehicles under one name. I did receive two fairly brief written responses to my letters, and both stated that when they get requests for a ramp van they refer the caller to a wheelchair van rental company. One even went so far as to mention Wheelchair Getaways. The other two rental companies did not bother to respond.
Since public accommodations are required to make their services available to people with disabilities, per Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I took the extra step of filing a complaint with the federal Department of Justice
that administers that important disability civil rights law. Car-rental companies are a public accommodation as defined in the ADA.
It has been about a year since I filed that ADA complaint, and I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from the DOJ civil rights division in this past week thanking me for contacting them and stating that they had reviewed my information but, unfortunately, because the section that handles these complaints receives thousands of ADA complaints each year they do not have the resources to resolve all of them. If the DOJ thinks they do not have sufficient resources, they should check my bank account. There seems to be a surplus of "insufficient resources" running rampant through the disability community at the present time...as always seems to be the case.
The DOJ also did not weigh in as to the validity of my complaint or whether it could be redressed under the ADA or another statute. They reminded me that did not preclude me from hiring a lawyer and taking formal legal action under what state or federal law that I felt might be violated.
The final two pages of the DOJ letter were lists of all of the disability-related agencies and resources, including Independent Living Centers and relevant DBTACs, in both New Jersey and Washington State (which is where I am "headquartered"). I'm not sure what New Jersey has to do with it, other than the fact that the headquarters of the largest car-rental company may be headquartered there. That could be a ruse though, as they have so many exotic locales they might choose to grace with their presence.
For those of you who have been following along since last June, thanks for sticking around. I hope this does not discourage any of you from taking appropriate action whenever someone steps on your toes or decides that your civil rights are not important. If any of you happen to run across one of those mainstream car-rental companies that decides to offer you a wheelchair van at some time in the future, I hope you'll let us know.
© 2014 Michael Collins