The Justice Department is suing the ride-hailing company Uber for charging “wait time” fees it says unfairly harm people with disabilities.
According to federal prosecutors, Uber charges an extra fee starting two minutes after a car arrives until the trip starts and that discriminates against people with disabilities who may need more time to get in a vehicle.
“People with disabilities deserve equal access to all areas of community life, including the private transportation services provided by companies like Uber,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses the San Francisco company of violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In a statement, Uber denied that its policies violate the ADA and said its wait time fee wasn’t intended for passengers who simply needed more time to get in the car.
“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,” the company said.
The statement added that Uber instituted a change last week to automatically waive fees for riders who certify they have a disability, and that it had been the company’s policy to refund wait time fees to riders when they alerted Uber that they had been charged.
The average wait time fee for Uber passengers is less than 60 cents, the company said. The fee begins after five minutes for Uber Black and SUV.
Justice Department prosecutors said Uber has failed to reasonably modify its wait time fee policy for people with disabilities, such those who may need to break down a wheelchair or walker before entering a car or a blind person who needs some additional time to walk from the pickup point to the vehicle.
Authorities said the lawsuit aims to get Uber to stop discriminating against people with disabilities, modify its wait time fee policy, train staff and drivers on the ADA, pay damages to those who were unfairly charged the wait time fees and pay a civil penalty.