The Department of Justice sued Uber on Wednesday alleging it charges disabled passengers who need more time to climb into a vehicle extra “wait time” fees.
Uber began violating the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2016 when it first began charging these fees in target markets, the Justice Department said in a statement. Those fees are now being charged across the country, it said.
“Uber’s wait time fees take a significant toll on people with disabilities,” said acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California.
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," according to a Justice Department statement.
“Passengers with disabilities who need additional boarding time are entitled to access ride-sharing services without discrimination," Hinds said. "This lawsuit seeks to assist people with disabilities to live their lives with independence and dignity, as the ADA guarantees.”
The Justice Department is seeking unspecified damages for people "subjected to the illegal wait time fees" and is asking the court to order Uber "to modify its wait time fee policy to comply with the ADA" and retrain its drivers.
In response, Uber said in a statement, "We fundamentally disagree that our policies violate the ADA."
The company said it had already been in discussions with the Justice Department about how to rectify the wait fees situation "before this surprising and disappointing lawsuit" was filed in the Northern District of California.
“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," the statement said. "We recognize that many riders with disabilities depend on Uber for their transportation needs."
Wait fees begin accruing two minutes after the Uber ride arrives at the pickup location and the meter keeps running until the car takes off, the Justice Department said.
Uber agreed but said the "average wait time fee charged to riders is less than 60 cents."
"It has been our policy to refund wait time fees for disabled riders whenever they alerted us that they were charged," it said. "After a recent change last week, now any rider who certifies they are disabled will have fees automatically waived."