Uber’s “wait time” fees discriminate against people who have disabilities.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Uber Technologies Inc. (Uber) for charging “wait time” fees to passengers who, because of disability, need more time to enter a car. According to the Department of Justice, Uber’s practice of charging wait time fees based on disability have harmed many passengers and potential passengers with disabilities throughout the country.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In this lawsuit, the Department of Justice alleges that Uber violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination by private transportation companies like Uber.
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first made into law in 1990. There have been amendments to it since then. The main purpose of the ADA is as follows:
To provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities;
To provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities;
To ensure that the Federal Government plays a certain role in enforcing the standards established in this chapter on behalf of individuals with disabilities; and
To invoke the sweep of congressional authority, including the power to enforce the fourteenth amendment and to regulate commerce, in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-to-day by people with disabilities.
What is Uber allegedly doing to people who have disabilities?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a lawsuit was filed against Uber Technologies on November 10, 2021, because Uber Technologies was (allegedly) doing the following:
…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.
The department’s complaint 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. The department’s lawsuit alleges 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.U.S. Department of Justice
What is in the lawsuit that the Department of Justice filed against Uber?
The lawsuit states that Uber is in violation of the ADA because it has failed to (1) ensure adequate vehicle boarding time for passengers with disabilities; (2) ensure equitable fares for passengers with disabilities; and (3) make reasonable modifications to its policies and practices of imposing wait time fees as applied to passengers who, because of disability, require more time to board the vehicle.
The lawsuit does not go after Uber drivers. It is clearly aimed at Uber Technologies. Here are some key points from that portion of the lawsuit:
Uber has publicly stated that the amount of the wait time fee charged depends on the passenger’s city and category of Uber service the passenger is taking.
The two-minute window before which wait time fees are charged begins when Uber determines via the global positioning system, or GPS, that the driver arrived at the pickup location.
Uber drivers do not have discretion related to wait time fees to indicate when they have arrived at the pick-up location.
Uber drivers do not have discretion to waive a wait time fee.
The lawsuit includes two examples of people with disabilities who were charged a wait fee:
“Passenger A” was described as a 52-year-old woman who lives in Miami, Florida. She sustained spinal cord injuries that resulted in quadriplegia. The lawsuit states: Because she does not walk, Passenger A uses a manual wheelchair, which she propels buy pushing on round bars that surround the wheel. Her manual wheelchair also has a handle on the back that can be pushed by another person. The lawsuit explains that this wheelchair can be folded up so that it can fit into the trunk of a standard vehicle.
Passenger A moved to Louisville, Kentucky (in May of 2020) to participate in a yearlong clinical study and rehabilitation program for spinal cord injuries at the University of Louisville. Her apartment was five city blocks away from the rehabilitation center. She received full-time nursing assistance from nurses who helped with her personal care, transferring her to and from her wheelchair, and storing the wheelchair in trunks of vehicles.
Passenger A relied on Uber to get to and from the rehabilitation program. She had appointments approximately ten times each week.
In August of 2020, Passenger A first noticed that Uber was consistently charging her wait time fees for her daily rides. She then examined past Uber receipts and realized she had been charged a wait time fee for every Uber ride she had taken since she relocated to Louisville in May of 2020. She had no other options to get to and from her daily rehabilitation appointments, and continued to be charged wait fees.
She contacted Uber, but has not received a refund for the wait time fees she has been assessed.
“Passenger B” was described as a 34-year-old man with cerebral palsy. He lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and moved in May of 2019 to Queens, a borough of New York City, to accept a new job. Passenger B can walk short distances, but primarily uses a manual wheelchair for mobility purposes. The wheelchair can collapse and be folded up when it needs to be stored in the trunk of a car.
Passenger B does not drive, and relied on Uber to provide transportation to visit friends and family, to commute to work occasionally, and to take him to social and leisure activities. Passenger B requests an Uber only when he is ready to be picked up and begin his trip. It takes him more than two minutes to board the Uber vehicle because he must fold up his wheelchair and store it in the trunk, which often requires the driver’s assistance.
In September 2018, Passenger B noticed on the Uber receipts that he had been charged a wait fee on multiple occasions, starting since January of 2018. He contacted Uber’s customer service. Uber initially refunded the fees Passenger B had been charged, but after he received a certain amount of refunds, an Uber customer service agent said he had reached the maximum amount of refunds and Uber would no longer issue him any additional refunds.
Both Passenger A and Passenger B felt discriminated against because of their disabilities. According to the Department of Justice, “other potential Uber passengers with disabilities know of Uber’s wait time fees and will not use Uber because of those fees.”
What did the U.S. Department of Justice ask the Court for?
The Department of Justice asked the Court to grant judgment in favor of the United States and declare that Uber’s actions, policies, and practices as alleged in this complaint, violate certain parts of the ADA.
They want the court to enjoin Uber, its officers, agents, employees, drivers and all others in concert or in participation with it, from engaging in discrimination against individuals with disabilities and for failing to comply with parts of the ADA.
They want Uber Technologies to modify its policies, practices, and procedures, including its wait time fees, to comply with parts of the ADA.
They want Uber to provide ADA training to its officers, agents, employees, drivers,and others.
They want the court to award monetary damages, including compensatory damages for emotional distress and other injuries, to persons aggrieved by Uber’s actions or failure to act.
They demand a jury trial.
What did Uber have to say about this lawsuit?
CNBC posted an article titled: “DOJ sues Uber for allegedly charging wait fees to customers with disabilities”. From the article:
…Uber said in an emailed statement that it disagrees with the DOJ that its policies violate the ADA.
“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 spokesperson 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 may 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”.CNBC
This is not the first time Uber has faced a lawsuit over wait fees.
Curbed posted an article titled: “Uber Is Yet Again Being Sued for Discriminating Against Disabled Riders”. It was posted on November 11, 2021. From the article:
…This isn’t the first time that the rideshare giant has faced charges of inaccessibility: In 2007, the nonprofit Disability Rights Advocate filed a class-action lawsuit in New York against Uber for not having enough wheelchair-accessible cars, and then similar complaints followed in Washington, D.C., and Chicago.Curbed
Justice Department Sues Uber over “Wait Time” Fees is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.
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