Department of Justice sends ‘strong’ message to Uber about charging wait fees.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Uber instituted a wait time fee in a number of cities beginning in spring 2016 and eventually expanding the policy to be nationwide. The policy put into place indicated passengers who don’t immediately “start their trip” would be charged a fee for the first two minutes after a driver arrives and for every minute thereafter before the trip begins. While meant to ensure drive times are kept on schedule and drivers don’t have to wait a long time for passengers to board, this policy, according to the DOJ, allegedly discriminated against passengers who are disabled.
“These extra fees have harmed many passengers and potential passengers with disabilities throughout the country, some of whom may be entitled to monetary damages,” the DOJ said after filing in the US District Court for Northern California and accusing the company of violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This portion of the act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabilities “in places of public accommodations, commercial facilities, and private entities that offer certain examination and courses related to educational and occupational certification.” The Justice Department is basing its suit on the fact that Uber is a public accommodation.
“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. “This lawsuit seeks to bring Uber into compliance with the mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act while sending a powerful message that Uber cannot penalize passengers with disabilities simply because they need more time to get into a car. Uber and other companies that provide transportation services must ensure equal access for all people, including those with disabilities.”
Matt Kallman, a spokesperson for Uber, responded by calling the lawsuit “surprising and confusing in light of Uber’s desire to work with the Justice Department to address confusion around its wait time fees.” Kallman added, “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.”
However, said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California, believes, “Uber’s wait time fees take a significant toll on people with disabilities. Passengers with disabilities who need additional boarding time are entitled to access ridesharing services without discrimination. This lawsuit seeks to assist people with disabilities to live their lives with independence and dignity, as the ADA guarantees.”
Uber was originally sued by ADA advocates bac in 2017. A report detailed “excessively long wait times for wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAV) in New York City.” The company countered with a lawsuit of its own in the state.
The DOJ is asking anyone who feels they have been discriminated against to report this if they are unable to get a refund from the rideshare company. Meanwhile, Uber has reported it is processing refunds for anyone who has come forward.