The United States is suing Uber Technologies Inc., alleging the ride-hailing company is discriminating against customers with disabilities by charging them wait-time fees for taking longer to get into cars.
Wait-time fees start two minutes after an Uber UBER, -5.67% arrives at a pickup location, and are charged until the vehicle begins its trip, according to a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department on Wednesday. The fees have been imposed since 2016 and vary by city and the kind of Uber service passengers order. The Justice Department said charging such fees violates the American with Disabilities Act.
“Uber’s wait time fees take a significant toll on people with disabilities,” Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds for the Northern District of California, where the lawsuit was filed, said in a news release. “Passengers with disabilities who need additional boarding time are entitled to access ride-sharing services without discrimination.”
An Uber spokesman told MarketWatch that the company implemented a change last week that allows riders to “certify” that they have a disability that affects their capacity to board a vehicle quickly, and that wait-time fees will be automatically waived for those who provide certification.
“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,” an Uber spokesman said. “We recognize 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.”
In the lawsuit, the Justice Department said Uber has refunded wait-time fees to some passengers while denying refunds to others, “even after being informed that the fees were charged because of their disabilities.”
The government provided two examples: One is a 52-year-old woman with quadriplegia who noticed last year that Uber was consistently charging her wait-time fees for trips she takes to a rehabilitation center about 10 times a week. She requested and was denied a refund, but continues to take Uber because she has limited options, according to the lawsuit.
The other example, a 34-year-old man with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair and does not drive, was initially successful in getting a refund from Uber, but he was then told he had reached the maximum amount of refunds.
The Justice Department, which seeks a jury trial, is asking the court to order Uber to change its policies and procedures; require the company to provide ADA training; award monetary damages to passengers; and assess a civil penalty.