NEWS

Uber Is Being Sued by Justice Department for Overcharging Disabled People

A hand holds up a smartphone showing the Uber app and nearby Uber taxis as regular taxis stand behind

Sean Gallup/ Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing Uber over the ride-hailing app's "wait time" fees policy.
  • Prosecutors claim that the policy discriminates against disabled people who need extra time to get to a vehicle.
  • Uber claims that the average wait time fee is only 60 cents, but that amount easily adds up for disabled people.

Uber is being sued by the Justice Department (DOJ) after it was discovered that disabled people were being disproportionately affected by extra “wait time” fees.  

According to federal prosecutors, Uber is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by charging the fee, which kicks in two minutes after a car arrives and keeps the meter running until the trip starts.

The lawsuit's claim is that the practice discriminates against disabled people who may need extra time to get themselves and their equipment out of a building and loaded into a car.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on November 10, 2021, states that "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."

In a statement, Uber denied that its wait time policy is ableist and that it was never intended to be used against people who needed extra time to get in a car.

Uber also said that the average wait time fee for customers is 60 cents. However, for people who use the service a lot—as many disabled people do—even a relatively small fee quickly adds up. 

As an example, the lawsuit identified a 52-year-old quadriplegic woman ("Passenger A”) who uses a wheelchair and has relied on Uber for transportation at least 10 times a week. The woman said that she was charged a "wait time" fee for taking 15 minutes to get herself and her chair into the vehicle and was denied a refund by Uber.

If the lawsuit's "Passenger A" was charged 60 cents each time (though it could have been more—the suit does not say) that would add up to $6 per week, $24 per month, and $288 per year.

The extra expense would be a burden for many, but for particularly disabled people who are less likely to be employed than non-disabled people.

Justice Department prosecutors said that Uber has failed to reasonably modify its wait time fee policy for disabled people.

The complaint stated that “passengers with disabilities and potential passengers with disabilities have been harmed and continue to be harmed by Uber’s alleged violations of the ADA, and are entitled to monetary damages, including compensatory and emotional distress damages.”

In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said that "people with disabilities deserve equal access to all areas of community life, including the private transportation services provided by companies like Uber."

In response, Uber said that it recognizes that "many riders with disabilities depend on Uber for their transportation needs," Uber said. "After a recent change last week, now any rider who certifies they are disabled will have fees automatically waived."

Uber said its company policy was to refund wait time fees to disabled riders when they alerted Uber that they had been charged. However, the policy raises concerns about how riders are supposed to “certify” that they have a disability. The implication is that Uber would ultimately be the judge of whether a person using its service is "disabled enough" to be refunded.

Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California said that "passengers with disabilities who need additional boarding time are entitled to access ridesharing services without discrimination," and that the "lawsuit seeks to assist people with disabilities to live their lives with independence and dignity, as the ADA guarantees.”  

Goals of the Lawsuit

  • Get Uber to stop discriminating against people with disabilities
  • Modify its policies, practices, and procedures including its wait time fee policy
  • Train staff and drivers on how to engage with disabled customers as not to be discriminatory and to abide by the ADA
  • Pay damages to those who were unfairly charged the wait time fees 
  • Pay a civil penalty

Clark said that the 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.”

What This Means For You

The Department of Justice (DOJ) advises that if you believe that you have experienced disability discrimination by Uber because you— or someone that you were traveling with—were charged wait time fees, contact 833-591-0425 (toll-free), 202-305-6786, or email Uber.Fee@usdoj.gov.

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