Ridehail Revolution: Lyft And Uber Almost Eliminate Racial Discrimination For Riders. Taxis, Not So Much

Written by Dana Sanchez

Lyft and Uber have nearly eliminated racial differences in service, while discrimination in the taxi industry results in higher cancellation rates and longer wait times for black riders, according to new research.

Ridehail services such as Uber and Lyft have revolutionized how people access cars, but research into where they travel and who they serve has been limited until now, according to the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies.

UCLA doctoral student Anne E. Brown worked for three years to fill the gap in research. She conducted a first-of-its-kind analysis of ridehail travel patterns, equity, and rider discrimination.

Brown was the first scholar in the U.S. to access Lyft’s trip-level data — data not available to policymakers or the public, UCLA said in a press release.  She analyzed rider travel and use patterns from more than 6.3 million trips taken in Los Angeles in 2016. She also conducted LA’s first audit study of Lyft, Uber, and taxi services, based on more than 1,700 rides.

Wait times and ride request cancellations were measured to show variations across race, ethnicity, and gender.

Brown’s findings are expected to have policy implications for private operators of ridehail companies and public officials, who must determine how to integrate ridehailing into mobility planning and better regulate discriminatory practices in the taxi industry.

These are Brown’s main findings:

  • Discrimination in the taxi industry results in higher cancellation rates and longer wait times for black riders. Taxi service overall was poor — 10 percent of taxis did not arrive within one hour — but it was worst for black riders. Black riders were 73 percent more likely to have a driver cancel on them compared to white riders, and taxi cancellations caused one in four black riders to never reach their destination. Black riders also waited 52 percent longer for their taxi to arrive than white riders.
  • By contrast, Lyft and Uber nearly eliminate racial differences in service. On both, a black rider had about a 4 percent higher likelihood of being canceled than a white rider. But 99.7 percent of Lyft and Uber riders reached their destination even if one driver cancelled a trip. While unlawful discrimination from taxi drivers prevent many black riders from completing a trip, driver biases on Uber and Lyft result in delayed, but not denied, mobility. And policy changes for ridehail apps — such as tracking driver cancellation behavior, permitting riders to use pseudonyms, and changing at what point in the pickup process drivers learn a rider’s name or race — could help erase the racial gap almost entirely.
  • The Lyft travel data showed no evidence that any Los Angeles neighborhoods are excluded from service based on the characteristics of their residents.
  • Lyft may improve auto-mobility for residents of lower-income neighborhoods. There was a strong association between Lyft use and lower rates of vehicle ownership in a neighborhood. The shared, more affordable Lyft Line service made up 29 percent of all Lyft trips in LA County, with people living in low-income neighborhoods comprising a higher share of Lyft Line rides. But Lyft use was lower than average in majority Asian and Hispanic neighborhoods, suggesting either that car access is already being met through carpooling or informal services, or that barriers such as lower smartphone, data plan, or banking access inhibit ridehail use.

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