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Is it Wrong for UBER to Charge Extra Fees for Disabled Passengers?

Analyzing the Ethical Issues of UBER’s Policy

Is it ethical for UBER to charge disabled passengers a higher fee because the driver must wait until the disabled person is fully in the cab? How can we assess the ethicality of such a position taken by UBER? It’s an important issue because making accommodations for disabled people are part of the law. Moreover, there is a right and wrong related to this issue from the lens of ethics. First, here are the facts.

Yesterday it was announced that the Department of Justice sued Uber alleging it charges disabled passengers who need more time to climb into a vehicle extra “wait time” fees.

Uber began violating the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2016 when it first began charging these fees in target markets, the Justice Department said in a statement. Those fees are now being charged across the country, it said.

“Uber’s wait time fees take a significant toll on people with disabilities,” said acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds for the Northern District of California.

Riders who are blind or use walkers or wheelchairs that need to be folded up and put away need more time to get into vehicles, but Uber still hits them up for more money even when it "is aware that a passenger’s need for additional time is clearly disability-based," according to a Justice Department statement.

“Passengers with disabilities who need additional boarding time are entitled to access ride-sharing services without discrimination," Hinds said. "This lawsuit seeks to assist people with disabilities to live their lives with independence and dignity, as the ADA guarantees.”  UBER

The Justice Department is seeking unspecified damages for people "subjected to the illegal wait time fees" and is asking the court to order Uber "to modify its wait time fee policy to comply with the ADA" and retrain its drivers.

In response, Uber said in a statement, "We fundamentally disagree that our policies violate the ADA."

Wait fees begin accruing two minutes after the Uber ride arrives at the pickup location and the meter keeps running until the car takes off, the Justice Department said.

Uber agreed but said the "average wait time fee charged to riders is less than 60 cents."

Also, there are no wait time fees for passengers who request wheelchair accessible vehicles, or WAV, or use Uber Assist, the company said.

"It has been our policy to refund wait time fees for disabled riders whenever they alerted us that they were charged," it said. "After a recent change last week, now any rider who certifies they are disabled will have fees automatically waived."

Here is the problem. Putting the burden on the disabled passenger to alert the company about the disability is wrong. The driver can clearly see whether a disability exists so the decision to waive the wait time fee should be done at that point.

What’s worse is UBER asking for a certification. We’re not talking about a criminal let out of prison who must show their release papers. We’re talking about some of the bravest Americans who deserve kindness and empathy because of their disability. UBER’s policy does neither and it should be ashamed of itself.

Finally, the fact that the extra charge may be as low as 60 cents is not the point. There is no materiality test of what is right or wrong – ethical or not. In the case of UBER, it is unethical because the passenger has an ethical right to extra time and the ethic of caring requires that drivers, and UBER, should be understanding that it will take a bit more time for disabled passengers to get into the car.

Shame on UBER!

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on November 11, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.