Racial And Gender Discrimination In Transportation Network Companies
Are some drivers on platforms like Uber and Lyft discriminating against passengers on the basis of race and gender? If so, through what methods? Researchers from the University of Washington, MIT, and Stanford University sought to answer this question through two large-scale randomized control trials in Seattle and Boston.
There are well-documented accounts of discrimination by taxi drivers against passengers. On the other hand, the rapid development of apps like Uber and Lyft has outpaced the public's understanding of social issues related to them. Thus, it is less clear whether or not discrimination is occuring on ride-sharing platforms.
To answer this question, a team of researchers designed a randomized control trial that was performed in Seattle and Boston. Participants of different racial backgrounds with "African-American sounding" names and "white sounding" names were recruited and instructed to hail a ride for a randomly-assigned, pre-determined route.
The participants took a screenshot of their app at various parts of the trip: 1) when the ride was requested, 2) when the ride was accepted by the driver, 3) when the driver arrives, and 4) when the passenger is dropped off at the end of the trip. From these screenshots, information like waiting times, travel times, cancellation rates, and ratings that drivers gave the passengers were recorded. The researchers assert that if discrimination is occuring, then some of this information would look different between passengers of different races and/or genders.
African-American passengers (both male and female) in Seattle waited for a statistically-significant longer time to have a trip accepted through UberX and Lyft. Furthermore, African-American passengers in Seattle waited approximately 30% longer for an UberX driver to pick them up at a given location, even when adjusted for differences in estimated waiting time. However, it's unclear if this result is statistically significant. Lastly, male passengers with "African-American" sounding names in Boston were three times as likely to have their ride canceled by a driver after the drivers were able to see the passengers' names. Put together, these findings suggest that some drivers on UberX and Lyft are actively discriminating against passengers on the basis of race.
Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2004). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. American Economic Review, 94(4), 991-1013.
Levitt, S. (2004). The Causes and Consequences of Distinctly Black Names. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 119, 967-805.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
This research shows that discrimination is actively being practiced by drivers on popular ride-sharing platforms. After showing how this is occurring, the authors make a number of recommendations for how these companies can combat it, including the following:
- Do not identify passengers on ride-sharing apps with their names
- Increase disincentives for driver cancellations
- Periodically audit drivers that seem to exhibit discriminatory behavior