FAQ: The Justice Department Lawsuit Against Uber's Wait Time Fees

Published November 11, 2021

On November 10, 2021, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the rideshare company Uber for charging wait time fees to passengers with disabilities. This practice is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and discriminates against riders who need extra time to get into a car.

Many passengers had never heard of these wait time fees – and might not have known that they were being charged. Other riders have fought the wait time fees because they can’t get into a car within the limited period that Uber provides.

You have questions. We have answers. Learn more about Uber’s wait time policy, the Justice Department lawsuit, and what this means for people with disabilities.

What is a wait time fee on Uber?

In 2016, Uber started charging wait time fees to passengers who weren’t ready to be picked up. When the app determines that the driver has arrived at the pick-up location, it will start tracking the amount of time until the ride starts. This clock stops when the driver clicks on “Start Trip.” If the wait time exceeds two minutes, Uber will charge a per-minute fee to the passenger.

The longer a passenger takes to get in the car, the more they will be charged.

The program started in a few cities and quickly expanded across the country, increasing the cost to take an Uber for passengers who needed extra time to enter the vehicle.

Why did Uber create a wait time fee?

The initial goal of the wait time fee was to compensate drivers for their idle time. A driver who is waiting for a passenger to get in isn’t earning money. Some passengers would ask drivers to wait several minutes while they completed chores or finished getting ready. A few minutes throughout the day adds up and eats into their income.

Uber debuted the program as a way to compensate drivers for their idle time without actually having to pay them. The burden is on the passenger to pay the driver for making them wait. Additionally, the program was meant to incentivize passengers to be ready by the time their Uber driver arrived.

As one executive told The Verge, with these fees, “the whole system runs more smoothly and the Uber experience improves for everyone."

Who gets paid the wait time fee – Uber or the driver?

The passenger pays the wait time fee and the driver receives most of it. However, Uber still takes out a portion of the fare in the form of administrative and service fees. On average, Uber pulls 25 percent from each fare. Some drivers might pay more based on the cities they operate in. A few municipalities charge between $1 to $3 for booking fees.

If Uber pulls 25 percent from the total fare, it includes the wait fee. This means that Uber would also profit from the collection of these fees.

Additionally, if the wait fee incentive worked, fewer people would make their Uber drivers wait. This means drivers could pick up more riders each day – resulting in more income for Uber.

Yes, this fee was meant to help drivers, but Uber also stood to profit significantly from the change in consumer behavior.

Why is a wait time fee discriminatory to people with disabilities?

The wait time fee is based on the idea that passengers make drivers wait because they want to. They call drivers before they have finished packing up or leaving work for the day. However, the reality for many passengers is that they cannot get to a car in two minutes and they can’t load their bags and assistive tools in that time either.

The Justice Department uses multiple examples to explain why passengers with disabilities might need more time. A passenger with a walker or wheelchair needs time to break it down. A passenger who is blind might need more time to cross the street safely. While these people are simply trying to get in a car, Uber is charging them extra fees because they can’t move as quickly as other passengers.

What part of the ADA is Uber violating?

This fee goes against Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination by private transportation companies like Uber. Here is what the ADA website has to say about this provision:

“The ADA broadly protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in employment, access to State and local government services, places of public accommodation, transportation, and other important areas of American life.”

Because it takes people with disabilities longer to get into an Uber, they are being charged more to use the service. This extra time is not optional for people with disabilities. They are not choosing to spend more time loading their items and themselves into a car. This is different from people without disabilities who choose to take longer to get into the vehicle.

Uber is failing to provide a reasonable accommodation (extra time that costs drivers and the company a small fee) to people with disabilities who need it.

What is Uber’s stance on the lawsuit?

In response to the lawsuit, Uber denies that its policy is discriminatory and says it is working with the Department of Transportation to reach an agreement. NPR quoted one executive:

“We recognize that many riders with disabilities depend on Uber for their transportation needs, which is why we had been in active discussions with the DOJ about how to address any concerns or confusion before this surprising and disappointing lawsuit.”

The company also says that it implemented a change last week that automatically waives fees for riders who have a disability. The company will also refund fees for riders who have been unfairly charged. Uber also says the fee starts after five minutes for Uber Black and SUV (typically larger vehicles that hold more people or that are more accommodating).

Uber says the average wait time fee is around 60 cents.

What can you do if you were unfairly charged a wait time fee?

If you feel like you were discriminated against by Uber because of your disability, you can contact the Justice Department. Here is the contact information related to the Uber lawsuit:

  • Email: Fee@usdoj.gov
  • Toll-Free Phone: 833-591-0425
  • Phone: 202-305-6786

Stay Up to Date on Anti-Discrimination Law

Even though the ADA has been an enforceable law for more than 30 years, many companies still fail to provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities. For more news on how advocates are fighting for the rights of people with disabilities, follow the news page at Accessibility.com. Then turn to our legal resources and blog for in-depth discussions on these issues.

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