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US sues Uber over 'wait time' fees charged to passengers with disabilities

The Justice Department accuses the ride-hailing service of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Angela Lang/CNET

The US Justice Department on Wednesday accused Uber of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by charging wait time fees to passengers who need more time to enter a car because of a disability. 

In a complaint filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California, the DOJ 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." This fee is charged even if a passenger's need for additional time is clearly based on a disability, such as the need to break down and store a wheelchair or walker, the complaint alleges.

Uber charges wait time fees to all riders who take extra time to get into a vehicle, after two minutes for UberX and after five minutes for Uber Black and SUV. Some Uber options, including wheelchair-accessible trips and Uber Assist, don't have any wait time fees by default, but those options aren't available in all locations. 

"Passengers with disabilities who need additional boarding time are entitled to access ridesharing services without discrimination," Stephanie Hinds, acting US attorney for the Northern District of California, said in a release. "This lawsuit seeks to assist people with disabilities to live their lives with independence and dignity, as the ADA guarantees." 

Uber spokesman Matt Kallman said the lawsuit is "surprising and disappointing," adding that the company has been in "active discussions with the DOJ about how to address any concerns or confusion" on the issue.

"After a recent change last week, now any rider who certifies they are disabled will have fees automatically waived," Kallman said in an emailed statement. "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 Justice Department is asking the court to order Uber to modify its wait time fee policy and to train drivers on ADA compliance, as well as pay a civil penalty and damages to people with disabilities who may have been forced to pay wait time fees.