The Department of Justice said Monday that it reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with Uber for overcharging people with disabilities, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Uber will pay more than 65,000 passengers who were charged wait time fees as they needed additional time to enter a vehicle. The DOJ said these fees were discriminatory.
The DOJ and Uber came to a two-year agreement in which the ride-hailing app will waive wait time fees for certified passengers, or persons they often travel with, who need additional time due to a disability. The DOJ said this can include people who need extra time to break down a wheelchair or to safely reach a pickup spot. Uber will also advertise a wait time fee waiver program so that passengers with disabilities can apply and be given a refund if necessary.
“This agreement sends a strong message that Uber and other ridesharing companies will be held accountable if their services discriminate against people with disabilities,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, in a press release.
The DOJ accused Uber of discrimination late last year. At the time, Uber said the lawsuit was both surprising and disappointing.
On Monday, Uber defended its policies.
“It has long been our policy to refund wait time fees for riders with a disability when they alerted us that they were charged, and prior to this matter being filed we made changes so that any rider who shares that they have a disability would have wait time fees waived automatically,” said Carissa Simons, a spokesperson for Uber.
Uber charges fees to passengers who take additional time to get to a vehicle. Uber trips with wheelchair accessibility and Uber Assist don’t have wait time fees, but aren’t available in all cities. Uber said the average wait time fee charged to riders in 2020 was less than 60 cents. Now riders can request wait time fee refunds in the app or on Uber’s website.
This isn’t the only controversy Uber is caught up in. A whistleblower, Uber’s former chief European lobbyist Mark MacGann, leaked 124,000 files to The Guardian earlier this month showing how the company resisted laws and regulations and that former CEO Travis Kalanick saw violence against Uber drivers as a way to win publicity points against the taxi industry. A spokesperson for Kalanick, Devon Spurgeon, denied the allegations in a statement. Uber said in a response that it “will not make excuses for past behavior” and asks the public to “judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come.”