The Department of Justice has hit San Francisco ride-share giant Uber with a new lawsuit, alleging the added fees it charges disabled passengers to get in or out of a vehicle is a form of illegal discrimination.
Corky Siemaszko of NBC News reported that “the Department of Justice sued Uber on Wednesday, Nov. 10, alleging it charges disabled passengers who need more time to climb into a vehicle extra ‘wait time’ fees.”
In a statement, the DOJ said, “Uber began violating the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2016 when it first began charging these fees in target markets.” Siemaszko reported that those fees are now being charged across the country.
Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds, who represents the Northern District of California, said in a statement, “Uber’s wait time fees take a significant toll on people with disabilities.”
According to Siemaszko, “riders who are blind or use walkers or wheelchairs that need to be folded up and put away need more time to get into vehicles, but Uber still hits them up for more money even when it ‘is aware that a passenger’s need for additional time is clearly disability-based.’”
Hinds elaborated on the government’s charges against the company, saying, “passengers with disabilities who need additional boarding time are entitled to access ride-sharing services without discrimination. This lawsuit seeks to assist people with disabilities to live their lives with independence and dignity, as the ADA guarantees.”
As part of the lawsuit against the company, the Justice Department is seeking damages in an unspecified amount for individuals subjected to these illegal wait-time charges. It is also seeking a court order that would force the company to alter its wait-time policy to make it ADA-compliant.
For its part, the company refuted the claim, issuing a statement that said, “We fundamentally disagree that our policies violate the ADA.”
Uber claimed it had already been attempting to work with the Justice Department to figure out how to adjust its wait-time policy and was alarmed to discover it led to what it calls a “surprising and disappointing lawsuit.”
“Wait-time fees are charged to all riders to compensate drivers after two minutes of waiting but were never intended for riders ready at their designated pickup location but need more time to get into the car,” the company said in its statement. “We recognize that many riders with disabilities depend on Uber for their transportation needs.”
Based on current company policy, the Justice Department said Uber’s wait-time fees begin calculating just two minutes after an Uber driver arrives at a pickup point and continue accruing until the car moves again.
Based on its research, Uber said that the “average wait-time fee charged to riders is less than 60 cents.” It also added that recent changes in company policy would allow any rider who officially certifies that they are disabled to have their wait fees automatically waived.