It appears that Uber and Lyft drivers often prefer not to drive for African Americans.

A study performed by the University of Washington and MIT, Stanford, compared data from contacting Uber and Lyft drivers. The results showed that black people had to endure longer wait times and more frequent cancellations from designated drivers. Apparently, the deciding factor was if the driver perceived that a male passenger had a “black-sounding name.”

African American, Taxi
Image credit: Magic4Walls.

A new way to study racial discrimination in business

To perform the study, researchers recruited two black men and women, and two white men and women. They were to ask for a total of 1,500 rides in Boston and Seattle, where the passengers completed 911 and 581 trips in each city, respectively.

In Seattle, the study shows that black participants had to wait a 35 percent longer time compared to white study participants. In Boston, the passengers who provided “black-sounding names” saw their rides canceled twice as often when compared to white participants.

It seems that black passengers received a statistically-proven poorer service compared to white passengers. The trend was present in both Uber and Lyft rides, meaning that it is not the company who is to blame for the issue.

The difference between both services is that Uber drivers can only see the passengers’ name after they have chosen to drive them to their destination. Lyft, on the other hand, allows the driver to browse for passengers, being able to see their name and profile picture. This translates to the fact that Uber drivers canceled rides more often.

The names for of participants were: Brendan, Brad, Greg, Todd, Allison, Kristen, Anne, and Laurie. The names of black participants were: Hakim, Darnell, Kareem, Rasheed, Aisha, Ebony, and Keisha.

Uber and Lyft were contacted to comment on the study, and Rachel Holt, director of Uber’s North American operations stated in an email that these sort of apps are meant as an equal business model, where people are meant to help others get around in their city without discrimination.

Adrian Durbin, a Lyft spokesperson, was also asked for comments on the study:

“Because of Lyft, people living in underserved areas—which taxis have historically neglected—are now able to access convenient, affordable rides. And we provide this service while maintaining an inclusive and welcoming community and do not tolerate any form of discrimination.”

Discrimination from drivers is not only inherent to Uber and Lyft, seeing that the study also documented regular taxicab use. Cabs stopped 60 percent of the time when aiming to serve a white passenger while they stopped only 20 percent for serving black passengers. This adds to the fact that white participants did not see more than four taxis pass before being picked up, while black participants saw a maximum of seven.

The study also suggests potential sources of discrimination, where the drivers seem to try to maximize their revenue potential. To maximize long-term revenue potential, drivers would set themselves on places where they could charge more and drive more frequently. For maximizing short-term revenue and minimizing risk, they would choose to reject or cancel rides.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research