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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Uber sued by Justice Department for overcharging disabled people


The US Justice Department (DoJ) is suing ride-hailing app Uber over allegations it has been overcharging disabled people.

The Department of Justice claims that Uber’s “wait time” fees discriminate against disabled passengers who require more than two minutes to get into a car.

It states that Uber must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

However, Uber stated that the wait time fees were not intended to apply to disabled riders and that the fees had been refunded.

According to Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, the lawsuit aimed to send a “strong message that Uber cannot penalise passengers with disabilities simply because they require more time to get into a car.”

She went on to say that Uber and other transportation companies “must ensure equal access for all people, including those with disabilities.”

However, Uber stated that it disagreed that its policies violated the ADA.

According to a spokesman, the company had been in discussions with the DOJ prior to the “surprising and disappointing” lawsuit.

Wait time fees, he claims, were “never intended for riders who are ready at their designated pickup location but need more time to get into the car.”

According to the spokesman, Uber has a policy of refunding wait time fees to disabled riders who notify the company that they have been charged.

“Fees are now automatically waived for any rider who certifies they are disabled, thanks to a recent change last week,” he added.

Uber’s disability issues

In 2016, Uber began charging passengers for driver wait times.

According to the company, riders are charged less than 60 cents on average, and wheelchair-accessible or Uber Assist trips do not have any wait time fees by default.

It is not the first time that Uber has found itself in hot water over disability issues.

In April, it was ordered to pay a blind woman in San Francisco $1.1m after she was refused rides on 14 occasions. In the UK, Paralympic medallist Jack Hunter-Spivey said in September that Uber and other taxi drivers regularly drove off when they saw that he was a wheelchair user.

A 2020 study by the University of Tennessee found that it takes 28% more income for a disabled person in the US to achieve the same standard of living as a non-disabled person.

Maria Town, chief executive of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), says there is a big difference between people with disabilities, and people who require assistance

Maria Town, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), who has cerebral palsy, told the BBC that disabled people face a “disproportionate economic burden, often as a result of realities they cannot change or control.”

She claims that, in addition to higher health-care, medical-supply, and accessibility-tool costs, the practise of charging extra fees for services such as grocery delivery or rideshare wait times adds an additional “tax” for disabled consumers.

Ms Town added that ending the practise of charging wait-time fees for disabled riders would be a “step in the right direction toward economic equality and dignity.”

According to the AAPD, many Uber drivers have driven away when they see a passenger using a wheelchair, crutches, a walker, or a service dog.

“The presence of disability alone sometimes is enough, it’s a huge issue,” Ms Town said, recalling an incident from 2017 concerning a man in Texas who had a genetic disorder that affected his appearance.

She also stated that it was unjust for Uber to expect disabled people to only use its wheelchair-accessible services or Uber Assist.

“It’s not fair on a number of fronts: there’s a limited supply of these cars on the road, and people with disabilities may not want assistance,” she emphasised.

Forcing someone to take an assist ride may result in “some tense driver-rider interactions that are entirely unnecessary,” according to Ms Town.

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