An equity audit of L.A.’s ride-hailing and taxi services suggests that black riders face more discrimination from medallion-carrying drivers than their Uber and Lyft counterparts.
Anne E. Brown, a researcher at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, conducted the audit, which she detailed in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed. She hired UCLA students to take upwards of 1,700 rides in Ubers, Lyfts and taxis between two designated spots.
The results were troubling. She wrote:
Taxi service, while poor, was pretty much the same for white, Asian and Latino riders. It was only noticeably different — and noticeably worse — for black riders, providing robust evidence of discrimination. Taxi companies were 73 [percent] more likely to not pick up a black customer than a white customer, and one in four black riders never reached their destination. When they were picked up, black riders waited 52 [percent] longer than white riders.
Previous researchers have found that taxis avoid low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Because my study followed riders traveling between two identical locations, we can see that discrimination also occurs at the individual level, driven primarily by race.
Discrimination occurred when a driver or taxi dispatcher could infer a rider’s race — either when they saw a rider’s picture on an app, learned their name or approached them for pick-up. In several cases, Brown wrote, taxi drivers approached black riders but then passed by without stopping. A few drivers also refused to transport black riders without receiving cash up front — which is illegal.
Lyft and Uber, on the other hand, generally delivered their riders to their destinations. Black riders did have about a 4 percent higher likelihood of having their trip canceled compared to white riders. But they almost always reached point B eventually, even if the first driver canceled.
Brown’s findings were echoed in New York recently when civil rights groups criticized the city for capping its ride-hailing services. Uber and Lyft were helpful services for black and Latino riders, who had more difficulty hailing cabs than their white counterparts, the advocates claimed. In response, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission announced plans to form an Office of Inclusion, according to the New York Times. The office will an develop anti-discrimination training program for drivers and encourage people to report the drivers who refuse to pick them up.
As Next City has covered, gender-based discrimination is a problem in the ride-hailing world as well. In New York, for example, women make up about 60 percent of taxi riders, but only 2 percent of drivers. Uber doesn’t have a stellar record of investigating and prosecuting sexual assault claims either, but several companies have looked to fix the problem with ride-hailing apps just for women.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.