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Seattle's Low Income Neighborhoods See Faster Uber Service

October 1, 2016

A Picture of Don MacKenzie
Don MacKenzie

Depending on your ethnicity and gender, Uber or Lyft might not be such a quick ride. A team of researchers including CEE Assistant Professor Don MacKenzie has found that discrimination impacts the quality of transportation for many people who utilize Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft.

The research findings come in two waves. The first paper, published in the October edition of the Journal of Transport Geography, compared Uber service across Seattle neighborhoods, finding that estimated wait times for an UberX tended to be shorter in lower-income neighborhoods of Seattle.

While this was encouraging news, the researchers wanted to delve deeper into other forms of discrimination, to evaluate whether equitable service was provided. To do so, MacKenzie and fellow researcher Ryan Hughes (MSCEE ’15) collaborated with researchers from MIT and Stanford University on additional studies to investigate discrimination within TNCs in other cities.

According to the researchers, there are four opportunities for discrimination to occur. One of these, drivers avoiding certain neighborhoods, was addressed in the first paper. The remaining discrimination challenges were assessed in the second paper: drivers declining trip requests from certain passengers or canceling requests after accepting them, drivers taking certain passengers on longer routes and drivers leaving lower star ratings for some passengers.

The second paper, published shortly after the first paper as a working paper, uncovered several forms of discrimination. Data was collected by sending out teams of UW and MIT undergraduate students to request and take rides on pre-assigned routes in Seattle and Boston. The researchers based in Seattle found significantly longer average times for black travelers to get an UberX or Lyft trip request accepted and significantly longer waiting times for black passengers to be picked up by their UberX. The researchers in Boston found discrimination against travelers with “black” names and that females were taken on significantly longer routes than males for the same destination.

See Also:
With close to 500 media mentions, below is a small sampling:

The New York Times article
US News article
CBS News article
Newsweek article
Seattle PI article
KOMO News article
UW Today article