Black riders wait “significantly longer” for their Ubers and experience double the cancellation rates of white passengers, according to a new research paper. The study, published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds “significant evidence of racial discrimination” in ride-hailing services based on a pair of experiments conducted in Seattle and Boston.
In the Seattle experiment, researchers hired eight students at the University of Washington—two black women, two white women, two black men, and two white men—to request and collect data on trips with Uber, Lyft, and Flywheel (another ride-hailing startup). The students were assigned travel routes, days, and times. Crucially, the ride-hailing process is slightly different for each company. Lyft drivers see a passenger’s profile photo as part of an incoming ride request. Uber drivers only get details on passengers once they accept a trip. Flywheel’s service does not include photos of passengers in their profiles.
Over 581 trips, the researchers found that the four black riders waited longer to have their trip requests accepted by a driver. Once that happened, black riders on Uber specifically also waited 30% longer to be picked up. The researchers thought this indicated discrimination because the estimated wait times provided to the riders by Uber were all fairly comparable. They also theorized that black riders were taking longer to be picked up on Uber because drivers were more likely to cancel the trip after seeing the rider’s personal details, causing delays while requests were reassigned.