Study Finds Shocking Racist Practices by Uber and Lyft Drivers

Is requesting an Uber or Lyft as difficult for blacks as hailing a cab? A new study suggests that may be the case

Uber
(Image: iStock/GoodLifeStudio)

A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found some disturbing racist practices by ride-sharing service drivers. Using groups of black, white, and multiethnic students in Boston and Seattle, researchers set up a series of experiments using Uber, Lyft, and Flywheel.

Here are some of the significant findings:

  • Trip requests from African Americans take between 16% and 28% longer to be accepted by UberX and Lyft drivers.
  • For UberX, African Americans wait between 29% and 35% longer for a pickup.
  • The probability that an UberX driver accepts a ride request, but then cancels, more than doubles for African American fares.
  • African American males are three times as likely to have their pickup request canceled.
  • UberX drivers are three times as likely to cancel a ride on a male with a “black-sounding” name.
  • Waiting times were the same for African Americans and white travelers using Lyft.
  • Although there was “evidence of racial discrimination among UberX drivers, [and] some evidence of discrimination about Lyft drivers, [there was] no evidence of discrimination among Flywheel drivers.”

The researchers concluded that Flywheel drivers were less likely to exhibit racism when picking up fares, because the service does not include photos of travelers in their profiles. Also, because Flywheel uses existing taxi drivers, the drivers who sign-up for the service may be less inclined to discriminate.

In an email comment to Black Enterprise, Adrian Durbin, director of policy communications at Lyft, said that this study was flawed. “Some of the reporting on this study has completely missed the mark about Lyft, and I am hoping to fix that. Namely, some of the coverage has implied that both Uber and Lyft saw similar results from the study, which is very far from the truth. In Boston, the study found NO evidence of discrimination by Lyft drivers. And in Seattle, the only evidence was a four-second increase in the time it took for black passengers to have a ride accepted, but there was no difference in the amount of time it took for black passengers to actually get a ride.”

“We are extremely proud of the positive impact Lyft has had on communities of color.  Because of Lyft, people living in underserved areas, which taxis have historically neglected, are now able to access convenient, affordable rides. We provide this service while maintaining an inclusive and welcoming community, and [we] do not tolerate any form of discrimination.”

“Ride-sharing apps are changing a transportation status quo that has been unequal for generations, making it easier and more affordable for people to get around—no matter who they are or where they live,” said Rachel Holt, head of North American operations of Uber, in an emailed statement.

“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.”