US Justice Department sues Uber over fees for disabled passengers

Rideshare company calls law suit ‘surprising’ and ‘disappointing’

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Wednesday 10 November 2021 21:05

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Uber for charging “wait time” fees to passengers who, because of disability, need more time to enter a car.

A statement from the department accuses the company of having policies and practices that have harmed many passengers and potential passengers with disabilities throughout the US.

The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that Uber violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination by private transportation companies.

In April 2016, Uber began charging passengers wait time fees in a number of cities, eventually expanding the policy nationwide.

Wait time fees start two minutes after the Uber car arrives at the pickup location and are charged until the car begins its trip.

The DoJ complaint alleges that Uber violates the ADA by failing to reasonably modify its wait time fee policy for passengers who, because of disability, need more than two minutes to get in an Uber car.

Passengers with disabilities may need additional time to enter a car for various reasons — for example, those that use a wheelchair or walker that needs to be broken down and stored in the car.

Alternatively, a passenger who is blind may need additional time to safely walk from the pickup location to the car itself.

The DoJ alleges that, even when Uber is aware that a passenger’s need for additional time is clearly disability-based, it starts charging a wait time fee at the two-minute mark.

The lawsuit seeks relief from the court, including ordering Uber to stop discriminating against individuals with disabilities

Additionally, the department asks the court to order Uber to modify its wait time fee policy to comply with the ADA; train its staff and drivers on the ADA; pay money damages to people subjected to the illegal wait time fees; and pay a civil penalty to vindicate the public’s interest in eliminating disability discrimination.

In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for Uber, said: “Wait time fees are charged to all riders to compensate drivers after two minutes of waiting, but were never intended for riders who are ready at their designated pickup location but need more time to get into the car.

“We recognise that many riders with disabilities depend on Uber for their transportation needs, which is why we had been in active discussions with the DoJ about how to address any concerns or confusion before this surprising and disappointing lawsuit.”

The company says it has been policy to refund wait time fees for disabled riders whenever they alerted Uber that they were charged. After a recent change last week, now any rider who certifies they are disabled will have fees automatically waived.

“We fundamentally disagree that our policies violate the ADA and will keep improving our products to support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities,” the statement added.

“People with disabilities deserve equal access to all areas of community life, including the private transportation services provided by companies like Uber,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“Uber’s wait time fees take a significant toll on people with disabilities,” added Acting US Attorney Stephanie Hinds for the Northern District of California.

She adds: “This lawsuit seeks to assist people with disabilities to live their lives with independence and dignity, as the ADA guarantees.”

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