I don’t know how I missed this story but in scrolling through disability news last week, I learned that the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in November against ride-share company Uber for overcharging people with disabilities.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California on Nov. 10, states that Uber launched a new wait-time fee policy “in limited locations” in April of 2016.
Uber charges all passengers for every minute beyond two minutes that that person is not in the vehicle and ready to travel. Timing is calculated from the time a driver arrives at a designated pick-up location based on GPS readings and drivers have no discretion to waive the fee regardless of a person’s reason for taking more than two minutes to get into the car — reasons like needing to transfer from, break down and stow a wheelchair, for example.
As if there aren’t enough barriers for people using mobility devices or who have low vision to find appropriate transportation, those who can afford to use Uber’s ride-share service are being discriminated against.
“Passengers with disabilities and potential passengers with disabilities have been harmed and continue to be harmed by Uber’s alleged violations of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and are entitled to monetary damages, including compensatory and emotional distress damages,” attorneys for the Justice Department wrote in the suit. They also provided several real-life scenarios including at least one during which Uber refunded the wait fees but only until passengers reached the maximum amount of refunds after which Uber declined to issue any more.
According to courthousenews.com, in a hearing held Wednesday last week, Uber attorneys urged U.S. District Judge William Alsup to dismiss the case arguing that the wait-time fee applies to all Uber passengers equally. But Alsup asked Uber attorney Alan Schoenfeld if the fee disproportionately harms disabled riders.
“Let’s say that the guy in the wheelchair is right there on the corner but the driver parks across the street, which happens all the time,” Alsup said. “It could be that the guy can’t cross the crosswalk in two minutes to get to the other side to get in the car and yet you’re going to hit them with a late fee. Don’t you think that’s unfair in that case? If somebody is in a wheelchair and can’t get across the street because your driver decided to park across the street? To me, it’s not fair.”
Schoenfeld argued that Uber applies the fee in all cases of an overdue passenger. “There are lots of circumstances where this wait-time fee applies that have nothing to do with a delay caused by a disability,” he said.
OK. So I understand why Uber charges for delaying their contracted drivers (who, by the way, have sued the company in several states over unfair labor practices). Time is money and I don’t doubt there are self-important or thoughtless people who keep drivers waiting for reasons that are purely self-serving. But why not give drivers the ability to waive the fee for those who have legitimate reasons for taking more than TWO minutes to get in the car?
Back at last week’s hearing, the judge denied Uber’s dismissal motion from the bench and set a trial for Nov. 7.
Stay tuned …
Are you a disabled person who has had issues with a ride-share service or public transportation — cabs, trains, subways, airplanes, buses, etc.? I’d really love to hear from you. Please tell us your story in the comments below or contact me via my website.