Uber and Lyft Riders May Face Discrimination, Study Says

 taxi phone


The sharing economy may still be struggling with the whole sharing thing. 

A new study found “significant evidence” of racial discrimination by Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle and Boston, according to researchers at the University of Washington, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University.

Black people in Seattle waited as much as 28 percent longer than others while trying to hail a ride with the apps, according to the study.  Uber drivers in Boston cancelled rides for customers with black-sounding names at over twice the rate as those with white-sounding names. For males with black-sounding names, the Uber cancellation rate in certain areas of Boston was three times more than for men with white-sounding names, the report said. 

Anti-discrimination regulation has struggled to keep pace with new sharing economy technologies. Last week Airbnb notified hosts and guests they must agree not to discriminate based on “race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age,” following mounting criticism of bias and a civil rights lawsuit filed against the company. 

In a September report, Airbnb outlined a series of steps it would take to address complaints of discrimination by people using the online home renting platform.  

Still, tech companies argue their sites aim to reduce long-standing discrimination in the service industry. Traditional taxi services have historically grappled with discrimination issues, and most cities now have laws to require drivers to pick up any passenger, the transportation study noted. 

Forty-five states plus the District of Columbia have public accommodation laws that prohibit hotels from discriminating guests based on race, gender, ancestry and religion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But many of those state laws stop short of specific protections for the broad demographic swaths that fall into Airbnb’s new policy.

"Because of Lyft, people living in underserved areas - which taxis have historically neglected - are now able to access convenient, affordable rides," a Lyft spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA.

An Uber spokesperson said the company believes Uber is helping reduce inequalities in transportation overall, but added the study was helpful in thinking about how more can be done.