Uber is being sued by the US government for allegedly overcharging disabled people.
The lawsuit by the Department of Justice takes aim at the ride-hailing app’s “wait time” fees, which kick in two minutes after the driver arrives and are charged until the car takes off.
It alleges that the policy is discriminatory because disabled people – such as the blind and those using wheelchairs or walkers – sometimes need more than two minutes to get into a car.
The Justice Department argues that Uber charges the fees even when the company is aware that the delay is disability-related and is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The lawsuit is asking the court to force Uber to change its wait time fee policy and pay financial compensation to those subjected to illegal fees.
Other demands are for Uber to pay civil penalties and retrain its staff and drivers.
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The charges were implemented in 2016 and expanded across the US.
“Uber’s wait time fees take a significant toll on people with disabilities,” said Stephanie M Hinds, acting US attorney for the Northern District of California.
She said disabled passengers who need extra boarding time “are entitled to access ride-sharing services without discrimination”.
“This lawsuit seeks to assist people with disabilities to live their lives with independence and dignity, as the ADA guarantees,” she said.
Uber denies breaching the ADA and said it had already been in talks with the department about how to resolve the wait fees situation “before this surprising and disappointing lawsuit” was filed in the Northern District of California.
“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,” Uber said.
The company said its policy has been to refund wait time fees for disabled riders “whenever they alerted us they were charged”.
“After a recent change last week, now any rider who certifies they are disabled will have fees automatically waived,” Uber added.
The “average wait time fee charged to riders is less than 60 cents” and there are no wait time fees for passengers who request wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV) or use Uber Assist, the company said.