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Driver discrimination still a problem as Uber and Lyft prepare to go public

Eli Wirtschafter
Discrimination against black riders is worse in the taxi industry, but Uber and Lyft haven't closed the gap.

Taxis are notorious for driving past black travelers. Uber and Lyft have helped to level the playing field, but black riders are still more likely to have their requests canceled.

Transportation reporter Eli Wirtschafter spoke with Crosscurrents host Hana Baba.

"The driver can see your name and your location before they pick you up. And based on those things, they might come to conclusions about who's going to get into their car."

Key takeaways:

  • In the 2016 study, male riders with African-American sounding names were more than twice as likely to get canceled on ride-hailing apps.
  • In the 2018 study, black app-users waited about a minute longer on average than white riders, as they were delayed by drivers who canceled their requests.
  • Both studies found that discrimination was far more prevalent when black riders tried to call or hail taxis, compared to when they requested an Uber or Lyft car.
  • To address discrimination, researcher Anne Brown suggests that Uber and Lyft could offer racial bias training to drivers, track whether drivers have a pattern of discrimination, and do more to obscure riders’ identities before pickups. When asked, company spokespeople could not comment on any plans to take such steps.
  • Giving more training or direction to drivers could imperil the companies’ argument that drivers are independent contractors, not employees.
  • Lyft and Uber say they respond to all rider complaints, and that drivers known to racially profile are suspended. They add that their apps are serving low-income people in ways that taxis didn’t, by being more affordable and by covering a wider geographic area.
  • There will be more scrutiny on Lyft and Uber after they go public, which is expected to happen in the coming months. The companies will have to share more business information, and they’ll be accountable to more investors, who might care about racial equity.
Crosscurrents Transportation
Eli is the Program Director for KALW's project in state prisons. We teach incarcerated people how to record and edit audio stories, and air them as part of the series Uncuffed.