Two popular ride-hailing services appear to be racially profiling passengers, a new study suggests.
According to the study by researchers at Stanford, MIT and the University of Washington, which was presented to the National Bureau of Economic Research, African-Americans are more likely to face cancellations and extended wait times when using Uber or Lyft.
“Frankly, that discrimination exists was not surprising after all the evidence of discrimination elsewhere,” said Stephen Zoepf, Executive Director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford and one of the authors on the paper. “It essentially confirmed our suspicions more than anything else. I think that the magnitude of the discrimination and the cancellation rates was surprising to me.”
Researchers came to their conclusions after conducting more than 1,400 case studies in Seattle and Boston.
They are quick to point out, however, that the results of their study point to individual drivers for the actions, not any sort of policy by Uber or Lyft.
Riders with African-American sounding names experienced wait times up to 28 percent higher in Seattle for both Uber and Lyft. In Boston, African-American riders were more than two times more likely to have a ride cancelled when choosing UberX, a lower cost service from the ride sharing giant.
They also found that cancellations from an Uber driver were three times more likely to happen with black men. Researchers were unable to find any correlation between race and cancellations with Uber competitor, Lyft, because drivers can see names and photos of potential passengers before accepting their patronage.
Both Uber and Lyft defended their business, citing a study saying the ride hailing services are more likely to operate in lower income communities than standard taxis.
A Lyft spokesman said the company was proud of its service to minorities.
"Because of Lyft, people living in under-served areas, which taxis have historically neglected, are now able to access convenient, affordable rides," Lyft spokesman Adrian Durbin said in a statement.
Uber says its app is designed specifically to prevent discrimination.
"Discrimination has no place in society, and no place on Uber," said Rachel Holt, head of North American operations for Uber. "We believe Uber is helping reduce transportation inequities across the board, but studies like this one are helpful in thinking about how we can do even more."