- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Uber and Lyft drivers are silently discriminating against customers with “African-American sounding names,” according to a report published Monday.

The authors of the study said they discovered a “a pattern of discrimination” after recently hailing roughly 1,500 rides in Seattle and Boston using either of the nation’s two most popular mobile ride-sharing applications.

Neither Uber nor Lyft require passengers to provide a headshot upon requesting a ride, but both apps display users’ names to drivers either before or during the pickup. After conducting experiments on both coasts, the researchers said customers of either service who appear to be black were discriminated against more often than passengers with “white-sounding” names.

“Across all trips, the cancellation rate for African-American sounding names was more than twice as frequent compared to white-sounding names,” said the study’s authors, a group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Washington.

Published Monday in the National Bureau of Economic Research, the report concluded “there appears to be evidence that African-American passengers receive worse service, compared to white riders, in TNC [transportation network companies] or ride-hailing based services such as Uber and Lyft.”

In Seattle, black passengers waited up to 35 percent longer than whites to be picked up. In Boston, users with “black-sounding” names saw their rides canceled in advance at nearly twice the rate of “white-sounding” customers.

“We went into this hoping that we wouldn’t see anything, but we found pretty strong evidence of discrimination,” a co-author of the study, Christopher Knittel of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, told CNN.

The study said the discrimination isn’t institutionalized by either Uber or Lyft, but rather the result of similar behavior shared among individual drivers.

“Discrimination has no place in society, and no place on Uber,” Rachel Holt, Uber’s head of North American operations, said in a statement. “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.”

A representative for Lyft responded by highlighting the app’s positive impact on “communities of color.”

“We are extremely proud of the positive impact Lyft has on communities of color,” Adrian Durbin, Lyft’s director of policy communications, told CNN. “Because of Lyft, people living in underserved areas — which taxis have historically neglected — are now able to access convenient, affordable rides.”

The researchers responsible for the study said that the issue could potentially be alleviated if either app stopped showing the names of users upon ordering or entering cars, but acknowledged that eliminating the feature would likely give way to new complications.


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