Customers with disabilities across the country have been overcharged by Uber since 2016 for allegedly taking too long to load into their designated vehicle, according to a federal civil lawsuit the Justice Department filed on Wednesday.
Uber's policies and practices of charging "wait time" fees for disabled passengers and potential passengers violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
"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," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit described an unidentified 52-year-old woman who relocated to Louisville, Kentucky, is a quadriplegic, uses a wheelchair for mobility and relied on Uber for transportation at least 10 times a week. The woman noticed that she was charged a "wait time" fee for taking 15 minutes to load into the vehicle and was denied a refund by Uber, according to the lawsuit.
"Uber and other companies that provide transportation services must ensure equal access for all people, including those with disabilities," said Kristen Clarke, the leader of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
Noah Edwardson, a spokesman with Uber, said in an email statement to CNN the company disagrees that its policies violate the ADA.
"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," Edwardson said, adding, "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."
Uber has issued refunds to some passengers with disabilities but "has also denied wait time fee refunds to some passengers with disabilities even after being informed that the fees were charged because of their disabilities," according to the lawsuit.
"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," Edwardson said.