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Uber and Lyft drivers discriminate against black passengers, study suggests

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Black passengers using ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft are more likely to have their rides canceled, and face noticeably longer wait times compared to white passengers.

That's according to a study published Monday by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of Washington. According to Mic:

Four black and four white research assistants equal in gender representation hailed rides over the course of six weeks in Seattle, and each of them included a photo of themselves in the app. The second study was conducted in Boston by individuals "whose appearance allowed them to plausibly travel as a passenger of either race" but using "African-American sounding" or "white sounding" names. The total rides hailed in the study was almost 1,500.

Researchers found Uber drivers in Boston canceled rides for men with black-sounding names more than twice as often compared to when the same passengers used white-sounding names. And black people in Seattle waited up to 35% longer for Uber and Lyft rides than white people. According to Bloomberg:

Lyft and Uber face different issues. While researchers found that drivers took noticeably longer to accept ride requests from black men on both services in Seattle, total wait times were the same for both races on Lyft. On Uber, total wait times were longer for black men. Drivers using Lyft 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.

A July 2016 analysis by Pew Research Center found ride-hailing services are seen by minorities as a benefit to areas underserved by taxis. Americans who live in majority-minority communities (census-block groups where more than 50% of residents are racial or ethnic minorities) are more likely than those who reside in predominately white neighborhoods to say that ride-hailing apps serve neighborhoods that taxis won’t visit, according to Pew.

Lyft spokesman Adrian Durbin told Bloomberg:

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

House-sharing company Airbnb released a report last month studying racial bias on their site after black guests complained of discriminatory treatment.

The company's findings resulted in a series of changes to its policies, including urging hosts to let guests book a unit without being screened, and preventing hosts from listing a unit on the same day they tell a prospective guest that it's unavailable.

Researchers proposed changes to Uber and Lyft's policies to lessen discrimination, like eliminating passenger names and photos. It's also implementing harsher consequences for drivers who cancel after accepting a passenger.

Although the study was limited, researchers say the results could indicate a bigger problem. Study author Christopher Knittel said in press release:

The patterns of discrimination were quite clear and consistent in both cities – and one can only assume it's happening all across the country in other markets. The study has found major areas of racial discrimination within this new industry. It's quite concerning.

Paulette is a blogger for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously interned as a reporter in the Michigan Radio newsroom.