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Study Finds Discriminatory Practices by Ride Sharing Drivers

02 November 2016
Study Finds Discriminatory Practices by Ride Sharing Drivers

Students from Stanford University, the University of Washington, and MIT ran experiments in Seattle, Washington and Boston, Massachusetts to see if the ride-sharing services were an improvement on notoriously discriminatory taxis. If you're African American, the findings of a new study point to racial profiling.

What would work to eradicate this form of an insidious discrimination is the removal of names, but the study warns that this could breed another form of inequality. In Seattle, black passengers experienced longer wait times on Uber, but not Lyft; however, drivers on both platforms took longer to accept rides for black passengers.

Sadly, the results were discouraging as they showed the racial discrimination is not a thing of the past, particularly targeting African-Americans as the discriminated group. "The results for estimated wait times suggest that this is not driven by systematic differences in routes or the timing of requests".

Black riders wait "significantly longer" for their Ubers and experience double the cancellation rates of white passengers, according to a new research paper. In the Boston-based test, researchers "whose appearance allowed them to plausibly travel as a passenger of either race", booked rides, except they used either "African American sounding" or "white sounding" names.

The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study of ride-hailing services based on experiments conducted over eight months in Boston and Seattle.

To combat racism among drivers accepting passengers, researchers suggest not disclosing passenger names.

I also know that around 40 percent of the time, I'm keeping up a conversation with a driver - who more likely than not is a man - so that he thinks I'm nice enough to not turn around and attack me because that's a thing that happens to women.

"Though completely eliminating discrimination is likely impossible, there are steps transportation network companies (TNCs) can voluntarily take to minimise service bias against minorities", said Don MacKenzie, another of the study's authors and an assistant professor within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington. In Boston, the gap in the cancellation rate between riders with black and white-sounding names was wider on Uber than on the other apps. Some of the riders were black, some white with monitored various performance metrics at each stage of every trip. Uber officials even went so far as to stage a press conference in Harlem several years ago, surrounded by African-American elected officials, to oppose a proposal by the mayor of New York City to impose new restrictions on ride-hailing.

Uber drivers see names after accepting a fare, why Lyft shows drivers the names and faces of potential drivers before they make a decision.

Rachel Holt, Uber's head of North American operations, told Bloomberg that ride sharing apps were closing an unequal transportation status quo and said discrimination had "no place" at the company.

"We are extremely proud of the positive impact Lyft has on communities of color", said Adrian Durbin, a Lyft spokesman.

"Because of Lyft, people living in underserved areas - which taxis have historically neglected - are now able to access convenient, affordable rides", he said in a statement.