Your Uber Experience May Vary Based on Your Race or Gender

Black riders face longer wait times and higher cancellation rates; women face unwanted advances.

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

Racism in transportation is so embedded in American life that it became a movie trope: In Down to Earth, Chris Rock realizes he's "a black man again" when he tries to hail a cab (opens in new tab) and three in a row blow right past him. So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that newer modes of getting around, such as Uber and Lyft, have kept this unfortunate pattern alive.

A study (opens in new tab) from the National Bureau of Economic Research out today indicates that black riders are more likely to have to wait longer or face driver cancellation than their white counterparts. Women, too, are treated differently: Drivers are more likely to make advances towards them or take them on longer routes to their destinations as a way to increase the fare.

The study monitored almost 1,500 rides in Seattle and Boston over the course of two years. In Seattle, University of Washington undergraduates were given identical phones pre-loaded with transportation apps and a predetermined set of routes. They kept track of when they requested a ride, when a driver accepted it, when the driver arrived, and when they reached their destinations. The researchers found that it took UberX drivers up to 35 percent longer to accept black riders' requests than it did for their white counterparts.

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

For the Boston riders, the Bureau used a previous study it conducted as a model. In that study, it sent two identical resumés to various employers—one with a "white-sounding" name, one with a "black-sounding" name. The latter resumes received callbacks around a third less often. In this case, researchers set up two accounts for each study participant along the same lines. Participants were recruited "whose appearance allowed them to plausibly travel as a passenger of either race."

The study found male riders with "black-sounding" names were canceled on twice as often as the other group. Female riders with "black-sounding" names were canceled on 8.4 percent of the time, while "white-sounding" female riders saw a cancellation rate of 5.4 percent. In more rural or low-population density areas, black riders were canceled on more than 15 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, female riders' experiences diverged from their male counterparts once they got in the car. Their trips tended to be 5 percent longer, particularly when drivers were "chatty."

Apparently, technology won't fix all our problems—like, say, racism. Or unwanted attention or advances from a complete stranger offering you a service. After all, you can't book an Airbnb (opens in new tab) without facing discrimination, either.

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