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Uber’s policy to charge “wait time” fees if a customer takes longer than two minutes to get into the vehicle is discriminatory against those with disabilities, a lawsuit filed against the company by the US Department of Justice has alleged.

The additional charge was introduced in April 2016, the department said, eventually expanding nationwide. It is alleged the policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as it fails to take into account those who may be less able to get to a car in the allotted time.

The lawsuit, filed in California’s Northern District, seeks to force Uber to introduce measures to prevent discrimination, modify its wait time policy and train its staff and drivers on the ADA.

Prosecutors are also seeking damages for those affected, as well as a civil penalty. The court filing details two cases, including that of a 52-year-old woman with a spinal injury who was repeatedly charged wait time fees. She was later told by Uber she could not be refunded because the charges were “automatic”, according to the filing.

“This lawsuit seeks to bring Uber into compliance with the mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act while sending a powerful message that Uber cannot penalise passengers with disabilities simply because they need more time to get into a car,” said assistant attorney-general Kristen Clarke, from the justice department’s civil rights division.

“Uber and other companies that provide transportation services must ensure equal access for all people, including those with disabilities.”

In a statement, Uber said it last week made a change to its app that automatically waives the fee for passengers who certify themselves as disabled.

“Wait time fees are charged to all riders to compensate drivers after two minutes of waiting,” a spokesman said, “but were never intended for riders who are ready at their designated pick-up location but need more time to get into the car.

“We recognise 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 said it “fundamentally” disagreed with the justice department’s assessment that it was in breach of the ADA.

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