The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against the ride-hailing major Uber for charging “wait time” fees to passengers who, because of disability, need more time to enter a cab.
The DOJ alleged in the lawsuit that Uber discriminates against people with disabilities.
“Uber’s policies and practices of charging wait time fees based on disability have harmed many passengers and potential passengers with disabilities throughout the country,” the Justice Department said in a statement late on Wednesday.
The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that Uber violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination by private transportation companies like Uber.
In April 2016, Uber began charging passengers wait time fees in a number of cities, eventually expanding the policy nationwide.
Wait time fees start two minutes after the Uber car arrives at the pickup location and are charged until the car begins its trip.
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
An Uber spokesperson told The Verge: “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”.
The Department’s complaint, however, alleges that Uber violates the ADA by failing to reasonably modify its wait time fee policy for passengers who, because of disability, need more than two minutes to get in an Uber car.
Passengers with disabilities may need additional time to enter a car for various reasons.
“A passenger may, for example, use a wheelchair or walker that needs to be broken down and stored in the car. Or a passenger who is blind may need additional time to safely walk from the pickup location to the car itself,” said the DOJ in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that even when Uber is aware that a passenger’s need for additional time is clearly disability-based, Uber starts charging a wait time fee at the two-minute mark.
The lawsuit is seeking relief from the court, including ordering Uber to stop discriminating against individuals with disabilities.
Additionally, the DOJ is asking the court to order Uber to modify its wait time fee policy to comply with the ADA, pay money damages to people subjected to the illegal wait time fees; and pay a civil penalty to vindicate the public’s interest in eliminating disability discrimination.