Drivers for Uber Technologies Inc. in Boston canceled rides for men with black-sounding names more than twiceas often as for other men. Black peoplein Seattle using Uber and Lyft Inc.faced notably longer wait times to get paired with drivers than white clients. The findings come from a study publishedon Monday by researchersatthe Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Washington.
“In many ways, the sharing economy is constructing it up as they go along, ” told 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.”
A new generation of technology companies have begun to grapple with how they can minimizeracial discrimination. Airbnb Inc. recently released anextensive reportstudyingracial bias on the site and proposed somechanges to the current policy. The home-rental company committed to offering more training for its hosts and hiring a more diverse workforce. It sent e-mails to clients over the weekend saying they must agree not to discriminate in order to use the site starting next month. However, Airbnb has defied advocates’ calls toremove photos of guests and hosts from its platform.
Is it that there is discrimination re: gender/ race in taxis in general? Or is discrimination re: gender/ race isolated to Uber/ Lyft?
deray mckesson (@ deray) October 31, 2016
In the case of ride-hailing apps, researchers similarly believe that names and photos are an issue. Such informationgives drivers the means to discriminate against prospective riders. Uber doesn’t show customer photos to drivers. Lyft does, but passengers aren’t required to provide a headshot. Both San Francisco-based companies give riders’ names to their drivers.
“We are extremely proud of the positive impact Lyft has on communities of colour, ” told Adrian Durbin, a spokesman for Lyft. “Because of Lyft, people in underserved areaswhich taxis have historically neglectedare now able to access convenient, affordable rides. And we provide this service while maintaining an all-inclusive and greeting community, and do not tolerate any form of discrimination.”
The study, conducted in Seattle and Boston, included almost 1,500 rides. Four black and four white research assistantssplit evenly among men and womenordered autoes over six weeks in Seattle. All use their photos on the ride-sharing apps. A secondtest been established in Boston with riders “whose appearance allowed them to plausibly travel as a passenger of either race, ” although they used either”African American sounding” or”white sounding” names, the researchers said. The studyfound that Uber drivers disproportionately canceled on riders with black-sounding names, even though the companypenalizes drivers who cancel frequently.
EMAILS! (@ mattyglesias) October 31, 2016
Ridesharing apps are changing a transportation status quo that has been unequal for generations, inducing it easier and more affordable for people to get around, Rachel Holt, Uber’s head of North American operations, said in an e-mailed statement. Discrimination has no place in society and no place on Uber. We believe Uber is helping reduce transportation inequities across the board, but surveys like this one are helpful in thinking about how we can do even more.
The research also observed discrimination in the taxi industrya well-known, decades-oldissue. The newspaper doesn’t compare the rate of discrimination between traditional drivers for taxis or ride-hailing apps. Uber has suggested thatit doesn’t offer tips in its app, as many drivers have asked for, because they can introduce racial biases.
Lyft and Uber face different issues. While researchers found that drivers took noticeably longer to accept ride petitions fromblack men on both services in Seattle, total wait times was different for both races on Lyft. On Uber, total wait times were longer for black men.Drivers use Lyft didn’t cancel on black riders disproportionately, but the researchers said that becauseLyft presents riders’ names and faces upfront, its drivers could simply screen out black passengers. Uber doesn’t reveal names until after the driver accepts the fare. “In Lyft, you are able to discriminate without ever having to accept and hit cancel, ” Knittel said.
The researchers proposed revisions that Uber and Lyft could construct to reduce discrimination, including not identifying passengers’ names, most severe repercussionsfor drivers who cancel after accepting a ride and periodic reviews of drivers’ behaviour to look for racism. However, Knittel acknowledged in an interview that there are advantages to personal information, such as creating a friendlier and more efficient experience. “There’s a trade-off here, ” hesaid. “There is a potential benefit from presenting names and photos, and yeah, I think we would agree with that. These companies have to weigh those two effects.”
While conducting the study, researchers also observedthat females were sometimes taken on significantlylonger rides than humen. “Other female riders reported ‘chatty’ drivers who drove highly long routes, on some occasions, even driving through the same intersection multiple times. As a outcome, the additional traveling that female riders are exposed to appears to be a combination of profiteer and flirting to a captive audience, ” the researchers wrote. The newspaper floats a possiblesolution to that problem: upfront faressomething Uber has already begun to roll out.
The writers of the study, along with Knittel, were Don MacKenzie, an assistant professor at University of Washington; Yanbo Ge, a doctoral student at the same Seattle-based university; and Stephen Zoepf, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford.
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