Got a African-American/Black “sounding” name? Or black picture on your Uber or Lyft profile? Chances are you’ve been discriminated against by a driver. A new study done by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Washington, shows that black people can’t catch a break or ride when it comes to racism and ride sharing apps.
In Boston, black people have rides cancelled on them the most by Uber and black people in Seattle faced notably longer wait times for a car using Uber and Lyft Inc. than white customers.
“In many ways, the sharing economy is making it up as they go along,” said Christopher Knittel, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and an author of the study. “A lot of this is a learning process, and you can’t expect these companies to have everything perfect right out of the gate.”
Lyft and Uber’s issues were slightly different. While researchers found that wait times were noticeably longer for black men on both services in Seattle, Lyft drivers didn’t cancel on black riders disproportionately. But the researchers said that because Lyft shows riders’ names and faces upfront, its drivers could simply screen out black passengers. Uber doesn’t show names until after the driver accepts the fare. “In Lyft, you can discriminate without ever having to accept and hit cancel,” Knittel said.
The researchers proposed changes that Uber and Lyft could make to reduce discrimination, including not identifying passengers’ names, more severe repercussions for drivers who cancel after accepting a ride and periodic reviews of drivers’ behavior to look for racism. However, Knittel acknowledged in an interview that there are advantages to providing personal information, such as creating a friendlier and more efficient experience. “There’s a trade-off here,” he said. “There is a potential benefit from showing names and photos, and yeah, I think we would agree with that. These companies have to weigh those two effects.”
So basically, we need a black owned ride-sharing app, huh? This is exactly why I don’t use my “black sounding name” or even a photo.