Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Uber, alleging that the ridesharing company violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by charging fees to passengers who, because of their disabilities, take more time to enter a car. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The complaint stems from a 2016 policy change. The company began charging passengers wait time fees, which begin accruing two minutes after GPS determines that a driver has arrived at the pickup location and stop only after the driver begins the trip. People whose disabilities require them to take more time entering the car—for example, because they need to break down and store a mobility device or because they are blind and need to navigate from the pickup location to where the car is actually located—have been charged these wait time fees, even where the company is aware that the wait is a result of disability.
Here, the DOJ complaint alleges three ADA violations: “Uber 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 complaint asks the court declare that these policies violate the ADA and to order Uber to modify its policies to comply with the ADA. It also seeks monetary damages and civil penalties.
The ADA reaches ridesharing services like Uber. Title III of the ADA addresses discrimination in places of public accommodation, which include “specified public transportation services,” defined by the ADA and its implementing regulations as “transportation by . . . any  conveyance (other than by aircraft) that provides the general public with general or special service (including charter service) on a regular and continuing basis.”
The complaint highlights the experiences of the people Uber has harmed through this policy, and shows that this conduct is at the heartland of what the ADA seeks to prevent with its “clear and comprehensive national mandate” against the “discrimination faced day-to-day by people with disabilities.” One woman who used a wheelchair relied on Uber to get to her rehabilitation appointments in a new city, ten times a week. She always arrived at the pickup location early, but realized that she had been incurring additional charges for months because it took her, on average, five minutes to board. She attempted to request refunds through multiple channels but received no response until, according to the complaint, an Uber employee told her that “the wait time fees were automatic and therefore Uber could not do anything to prevent them from being charged if [she] exceeded the two-minute time limit for any reason.” She said that the experience makes her feel like a second-class citizen.
This is not the first time Uber has been accused of violating the ADA. In a case that later settled, National Federation of the Blind of California sued the company on behalf of people with service dogs who were repeatedly refused entry into cars and had their rides canceled after drivers saw their service dogs.