The days of cabbies skipping fares based on the color of their skin have (surprise!) not gone away with the deluge of car-hailing apps. Much like how Airbnb is dealing with a major racism issue when it comes to home sharing, Uber and Lyft are being called out for enabling drivers to avoid or cancel fares based on their race. A two-year study of ride-hailing apps that Jalopnik reports on today found that trip requests from black riders took up to 28 percent longer to be accepted by UberX and Lyft than white people. Those black riders also had a cancellation rate nearly twice as high. Uber doesn’t show you the photo of the rider until after the driver accepts a ride, at which point they can cancel; Lyft shows you the photo right away, which makes its discrimination practices even harder to track.
But wait, there’s more! Women had the opposite problem, and not in a good way: Drivers in the study were more likely to keep women in their cars longer, taking elongated routes and being “chatty,” resulting in 5 percent longer (and more expensive) rides. Racism and sexism are not problems Uber or Lyft created, but their technology apparently hasn’t helped address it.
The results come from a two-year study in Seattle and Boston conducted by the non-profit, non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research. Researchers from MIT, Stanford and the University of Washington tested Uber, Lyft and Flywheel tested nearly 1,5000 (1,500 or 15,000?) rides in the two cities.
In addition to the racism and sexism, surge pricing might be screwing you even more than you thought: The “trips tend to last longer when the passenger is paying more than the standard rate,” according to Jalopnik.
All of these are problems that have existed in cabbies forever, unfortunately, but the study recommends some ways to fix it that were not available to yellow cabs of yore: Not using names or photos, having fixed fares, using a disincentive to stop drivers from canceling requests, and doing regular audits of driver behavior.
Uber issued a statement to Bloomberg Technology saying discrimination is bad, but didn’t seem to argue with the results of the study:
“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.”
Drivers are already starting to leave Uber for startup competitor Juno (which was not included in the discrimination study). Uber is also trying to position itself as the cheaper commuting alternative to the MTA, a strike to undercut some of the very structure of New York life. Like we said, discrimination about who to pick up has been an issue since the first yellow cabs hit the streets and turned their lights off when they passed someone they didn’t want to pick up.
But you’d think that with all its technological dreams, Uber could put some of the money it has going into flying cars into making the world a little more fair for someone who just needs a ride in a regular car on the ground.
Follow Tim: @timdonnelly.