Uber, Lyft Addressing Concerns of Racial Discrimination

Several months after a local MIT Professor uncovered how Uber and Lyft are discriminating against some riders, both companies are now working to prevent the problem.

"Both companies, to their credit, reached out to us right away, and we have been having ongoing conversations to think of ways to reduce discrimination," said Professor Christopher Knittel of MIT, one of authors of the study. 

He was one of the lead researchers that uncovered in 2016 that drivers were discriminating against minority riders. 

"What we found in Boston was if you were a black male calling an Uber ride, the chances that the Uber driver would accept your ride, see your name and then cancel your ride were more than double compared to white males," Knittel said.

Sterling Shury says it happened to him several weeks ago when he ordered a Lyft. 

"As I'm walking out to meet the driver, I see him pull up and slow down. So I kind of waved and motioned, made eye contact," he said. "He slowly backed up and he did a u-turn and drove off."

Shury eventually was able to get another Lyft. But Knittel says it’s easy for drivers to discriminate on the Uber app. 

"The Uber application doesn't tell the driver the rider's name until after they accept the ride, said Knittel. "The Lyft platform tells the driver the name of the passenger right away."

Knittel says proving Lyft drivers discriminated against some drivers was more difficult.

"We didn't find any effect of cancellations on race but that doesn't mean that discrimination is not happening. It's just happening more efficiently because they can pass up the ride," he said 

Both Lyft and Uber say they have policies in place that discourage discrimination. 

Adrian Durbin, a spokesperson for Lyft said in a statement to NBC Boston, "Lyft will always consider ways to improve, including to ensure against discriminatory conduct. Any discrepancy in service experienced by passengers due to race is unacceptable. We continually monitor our platform and review external studies looking for inappropriate behavior. We have begun developing a more targeted audit process focused on cancellation rates and quality of service in predominantly minority neighborhoods, and will take appropriate action as necessary once the audit is completed." 

A spokesperson for Uber told NBC Boston it is testing ways on how to better safeguard against discrimination. It is also reviewing how to better notify drivers of its non-discrimination policy. 

Knittel told NBC Boston he couldn't comment on specific suggestions he has made to either ride sharing coming. 

"Any time there's a human element to these sorts of markets, you run the risk of having discrimination," he said. "Of course, the long term solution to eliminate discrimination would be autonomous vehicles."

He suggested both companies should better monitor how often their driver's cancel rides.

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