Companies such as Uber and Lyft were supposed to make transportation more accessible for all people, regardless of their gender or race, but findings from a new study are showing this isn't actually the case.
The study, conducted in Seattle and Boston by researchers at Stanford University, MIT and the University of Washington, found that in fact, Uber and Lyft drivers discriminate against women and black people.
"Across all trips, the cancellation rate for African American sounding names was more than twice as frequent compared to white sounding names," wrote researchers, who also noted that findings suggest some women were taken on longer routes than men.
"Other female riders reported 'chatty' drivers who drove extremely long routes, on some occasions, even driving through the same intersection multiple times," the study noted. "As a result, the additional travel that female riders are exposed to appears to be a combination of profiteering and flirting to a captive audience."
"The patterns of discrimination were quite clear and consistent in both cities — and one can only assume it’s happening all across the country in other markets," said study co-author Christopher R. Knittel, a professor at MIT. "The study has found major areas of racial discrimination within this new industry. It’s quite concerning."
To conduct the study, researchers sent out assistants to Seattle and Boston to hail nearly 1,500 rides using Uber, Lyft and Flywheel.
The assistants then took screenshots of the apps to document their experience, recording their estimated wait times, whether a driver accepted them and where and when they were picked up and dropped off. These notes made up the data gathered on how the driving services differed in their treatment of gender and race.
The study found significant evidence that black riders faced longer wait times and more frequent cancellations than white riders: in Seattle, black riders who hailed an Uber ride faced wait times as much as between 29 to 35 per cent longer, while in Boston, black men had a cancellation rate three times as high as white men.
On top of this, riders with "black-sounding names" were significantly more likely to be cancelled on than either white riders or black riders with “white-sounding names.”
"The study has found major areas of racial discrimination within this new industry. It’s quite concerning."
In response to the study, Uber wrote a statement to Bloomberg saying they hope to do better.
"Ridesharing apps are changing a transportation status quo that has been unequal for generations, making it easier and more affordable for people to get around," Rachel Holt, the head of Uber’s North American operations, wrote in the statement.
"Discrimination has no place in society and no place on Uber. We believe Uber is helping reduce transportation inequities across the board, but studies like this one are helpful in thinking about how we can do even more."
"We are extremely proud of the positive impact Lyft has on communities of colour. Because of Lyft, people living in underserved areas — which taxis have historically neglected — are now able to access convenient, affordable rides," said Adrian Durbin, director of policy communications. "And we provide this service while maintaining an inclusive and welcoming community, and do not tolerate any form of discrimination."
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