Justice Department Sues Uber for Overcharging Customers With Disabilities

Uber has charged people who use walkers and wheelchairs extra for taking too long to get into the car, according to a lawsuit the Justice Department filed Wednesday against the ride-sharing app. The complaint argues that charging more to customers who take longer than two minutes to get into a car discriminates against people with disabilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Many passengers with disabilities require more than two minutes to board or load into a vehicle for various reasons, including because they may use mobility aids and devices such as wheelchairs and walkers that need to be broken down and stored in the vehicle or because they simply need additional time to board the vehicle,” the complaint says.

A representative for Uber provided a statement claiming the fees were not intended for people with disabilities and that the company has been working with the DOJ to address this concern. “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, 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 statement also said those representing the company “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.”

In 2016, Uber implemented “wait time” fees in some locations — later expanding to all cities — that began charging a customer a certain time after the car has been waiting at the pickup spot. According to Uber, riders get charged after two minutes for their standard UberX vehicles and after five minutes for SUVs or luxury cars. Wheelchair accessible rides and Uber Assist rides that offer assistance to passengers have no wait fees. Fees continue to pile up until the car starts moving. The app charges riders regardless of the reason for their delay. According to the complaint, drivers don’t have the discretion to waive these fees, and phone’s GPS system determines when a car has “arrived” at the pick-up location for the purpose of the fees. 

According to the complaint, Uber has said the fee amount depends on the city and the type of vehicle a person requests. The company has reimbursed some fees after a customer explains they have a disability, the complaint says, but other times, it has denied the same type of request by someone with a disability. Uber stated that company policy has been to refund riders with disabilities, and that a new change has fixed the reimbursement issue more completely. “After a recent change last week, now any rider who certifies they are disabled will have fees automatically waived,” the statement said. 

The complaint cites the example of Passenger A, a 52-year-old woman who used a wheelchair and took Uber around 10 times a week to and from rehabilitation appointments for her spinal cord injury in Louisville, Kentucky. She noticed she was being charged extra fees for each ride. To get into the car, her nursing assistant would use a sliding board to help her move from her wheelchair to the seat before helping move her legs into the car and placing the wheelchair in the trunk of the car. The woman reached out to Uber via email and Twitter to ask for a refund. Eventually, according to the complaint, an employee responded, telling her that “the wait time fees were automatic and therefore Uber could not do anything to prevent them from being charged if Passenger A exceeded the two-minute time limit for any reason.”

In another instance referred to in the complaint, a 34-year-old man with cerebral palsy who often uses a wheelchair — and must break it down and put it in the trunk before he gets into a car — noticed he’d been charged extra every time he took an Uber for about nine months in 2018. When he sought refunds for the fees, according to the lawsuit, Uber reimbursed some of his money before a customer service employee informed him he’d received the maximum number of refunds and the company would not issue any more.

The complaint said these policies left these customers angry and frustrated, and made the woman in Louisville feel “like a second-class citizen.” The suit further alleges that some people with disabilities who would like to use Uber have heard about the fees and avoid the app because of them. The Justice Department accuses Uber of “a pattern of discrimination” for failing to ensure adequate boarding time and equitable fares for passengers with disabilities, and for failing to modify its wait time fee policies for passengers who, because of a disability, need more time to get into the car. 

The Justice Department requests that Uber change its wait time fee policy to accommodate passengers with disabilities, that the company provide ADA training to its employees and drivers, and award monetary damages to those people harmed emotionally by Uber’s practices.

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