Uber, Lyft have 'pattern of discrimination' against black passengers, study says

SAN FRANCISCO -- Uber and Lyft are responding to a brand new report that says its drivers are discriminating against black passengers.

"When the passengers used an African-American sounding name, they were canceled, the ride was canceled more than twice as frequently," explained Stephen Zoepf, with Stanford Center for Automotive Research

Those were the findings for Uber in Boston. Researchers, including those from Stanford, sent assistants into the field in Boston and Seattle to request rides from Uber and Lyft. They say they found discrimination in cancellations and wait times.

The study, conducted in Seattle and Boston, included almost 1,500 rides. Four black and four white research assistants - split evenly among men and women - ordered cars over six weeks in Seattle. All used their photos on the ride-sharing apps.

A second test was held in Boston with riders "whose appearance allowed them to plausibly travel as a passenger of either race," although they used either "African-American sounding" or "white sounding" names, the researchers said.

The study found that Uber drivers disproportionately canceled on riders with black-sounding names, even though the company penalizes drivers who cancel frequently.

The president of the San Jose Silicon Valley NAACP says the findings don't surprise him, but they are hurtful.

"That's not how technology should work. It should do more to drive us together and bring us together as a people. That's the part I look forward to," said Rev. Jethroe Moore, with the NAACP.

A statement from Uber reads in part: "We believe Uber is helping reduce transportation inequalities across the board."

Lyft issued a similar statement: "We are extremely proud of the positive impact Lyft has had on communities of color."

It's worth noting that Uber drivers have to accept a fare before they see the name of the passenger. Lyft drivers see the name immediately.

"Our concern was that peer transportation systems weren't eliminating discrimination, but they might just be hiding it," Zoepf said.

A driver who works for both Uber and Lyft told KGO-TV that he picks up everyone.

"I never, never cancel the trip for the customer. Never," he said.

Some suggested remedies from researchers is to not use names at all and to conduct periodic audits of drivers whose behavior appears discriminatory.
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