Need a lift? Well, if you are a person of color, African-American in particular, getting an Uber or Lyft will be much more difficult.
According to new studies conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, MIT, Stanford University, and The University of Washington, African-American passengers face a certain level of discrimination in the form of extended wait times and frequent ride cancellations from these ridesharing companies.
Researchers conducted two different experiments, one in Seattle and one in Boston, and included a total of almost 1,500 Uber and Lyft rides.
In Seattle, eight black and white research assistants, split evenly among gender and race, participated in the experiment. The participants used their own photo for their profile and ordered cars from both car services over a six-week period.
The African-American passengers experienced 35 percent more wait time than their white counterparts using Uber. Lyft passengers had the same wait time in both cities for each race but researchers still do not rule out discrimination.
“In Lyft, you can discriminate without ever having to accept and hit cancel,” Christopher Knittel, an author of the study and professor at MIT, states. Knittel refers to the fact that Lyft drivers can view a passenger’s name and photo before choosing to accept the ride. With this feature, discriminating against a passenger is easier for Lyft drivers than it is for Uber drivers.
The tests in Boston aimed to determine whether “black sounding” names impacted the frequency of ride cancellations by drivers. The researchers chose riders “whose appearance allowed them to plausibly travel as a passenger of either race,” and assigned them with either a “black sounding” or “white sounding” name.
Although Uber penalizes drivers for frequently canceling rides, it still did not manage to prevent discrimination. Not only was the frequency of ride cancellations for riders with “black sounding” names more than their white counterparts, it was more than double.
Furthermore, in low-density areas, male passengers using Uber with “black sounding” names had more than triple the amount of ride cancellations.
What does this all mean? Many African-Americans and people of color use Uber and Lyft as alternatives to traditional taxi services. Most people originally made the switch to these ridesharing services because of the neglect of certain areas and discrimination by taxi services.
After looking at the results of these studies, researchers suggested that these car services and ridesharing companies eliminate profile photos and passenger names to cut down on discrimination.
“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.” Rachel Holts, head of Uber’s North American Operations, stated. Following this statement, we can expect changes to both ridesharing services in the future.