In a press release on Wednesday, the DOJ said it had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the ride-hailing company for charging “wait time” fees to passengers who, because of disability, need more time to enter a car.
The DOJ said the wait time fees based on disability have “harmed many passengers and potential passengers with disabilities throughout the country,” as passengers with a disability need more than two minutes to get in an Uber car for a number of reasons.
The lawsuit alleges that Uber violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination by private transportation companies like Uber.
Uber began charging passengers in multiple cities wait time fees in April 2016, before expanding the policy nationwide. The fees begin two minutes after the Uber vehicle arrives at the pickup location of the customer and continue until the car begins its journey.
The DOJ’s lawsuit wants Uber to stop discriminating against people with disabilities, modify its wait time fee policy to comply with ADA, train staff and drivers on the ADA, pay damages to those who were unfairly charged the “illegal” wait time fees, and pay a civil penalty.
“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 DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
“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,” Clarke added.
Uber said the average wait time fee charged to riders is less than 60 cents, according to The Associated Press.
The company’s website says customers are notified that the wait time fee has started before entering the vehicle. If a ride is cancelled and the customer is charged a cancellation fee, the wait time fee is removed. The wait time fee may not apply to airports or certain other venues, or certain type of trips such as UberPool.
The San Francisco-based company said in an emailed statement to CNBC that it disagrees with the DOJ that its policies violate the ADA and that disabled riders are able to inform the company of the over-charges, in which case the company’s policy is to refund them.
“It has been our policy to refund wait time fees for disabled riders whenever they alerted us that they were charged. After a recent change last week, now any rider who certifies they are disabled will have fees automatically waived,” an Uber spokesman said.
“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 spokesperson added. “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 Epoch Times has contacted Uber for comment.
This is not the first time Uber has been criticized over its policies and how they affect disabled customers.
In April the company was ordered to pay $1.1 million in compensation to a blind woman who was refused rides on 14 occasions.
Lisa Irving claimed that drivers had been verbally abusive and harassed her about transporting her guide dog in the car on various occasions.
A lawsuit filed against the company in 2009 in Pennsylvania also accused Uber of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and failing to ensure that people in wheelchairs receive equal service from the company.