West Edition

Study shows inequities in rider transit services

By Dorany Pineda

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — African Americans experience longer wait times and higher cancellation rates for taxis, Uber and Lyft rides, according to a new study by UCLA.

Research author Anne Elizabeth Brown had 18 racially diverse UCLA students request more than 1,700 rides across Los Angeles in what amounted to nearly 1,800 hours of field work to gather project data.

She looked at the number of cancellations by the caller’s race and their average wait times for taxis, Lyft and Uber rides.

The study found that Lyft drivers canceled 7 percent of rides requested by black passengers compared to 3 percent for white riders, and 5 percent for Hispanics and Asians.

For Uber, the numbers were similar. African Americans had 6 percent of their requests canceled, while whites had 2 percent, and Hispanics and Asians had their rides canceled 3 percent of the time.

And there were longer wait times, too, with black riders having to wait about a minute longer than whites for their Lyft or Uber ride.

But the data showed discrimination was far more blatant in the taxi industry than in ride-hailing services.

Seventy-three percent of black riders were more likely to have their requests for service canceled by taxi companies than white riders, meaning that a quarter of black taxi riders never reached their destinations. Comparatively, 99.7 percent of passengers of ride-hailing services did arrive at their destination even though their pickup was slightly delayed.

With waiting times, black riders waited 52 percent longer –– or about 6 minutes and 15 seconds –– for their taxi rides.

The findings were not surprising to some. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, wrote in an email that the study “simply reaffirmed that even in the world of taxi and rider transportation services, African Americans still suffer the indignity of being rejected, ignored and bypassed when it comes to getting ride service.”

He recalled being ignored on a busy street in broad daylight “even after [he] virtually stood in the middle of the street waving [his] arms for a taxi.”

On June 28, soon after the study’s publication, Hutchinson accused Uber and Lyft of racial profiling and urged city officials to conduct an immediate investigation and penalize the operations.

Though Brown wasn’t surprised by her findings, she didn’t expect such stark differences in mobility and access between the two industries.

“I think one of the most important things this study demonstrates is really that while there’s still work to be done to close that remaining gap in Uber and Lyft, the real story here is how different they are compared to taxis,” Brown said.

For decades, taxis were one of few ways non-vehicle owners had access to cars. Studies have shown how car ownership has been crucial to opportunity access. It’s been linked to employment and higher wage earnings, as well as more accessibility to supermarkets and healthy food.

Ultimately, ride-hailing super companies like Lyft and Uber are significantly narrowing, though not erasing, the mobility gap and “providing a far more equitable service” than taxis, Brown said.

As to why there’s more discrimination in the taxi industry, Brown has a few theories. One is that there’s less accountability within it.

“The star ratings, for example, if you’re discriminated against on Uber and Lyft, a rider can provide instant feedback to the company,” Brown said, a detail that benefits both drivers and passengers.

The rating feature, Brown said, “forced behavior and deterred any kind of negative actions” from both parties.

But taxi drivers had their own thoughts. When Brown presented her research to the Los Angeles Taxi Cab Commision, taxi drivers expressed worry about not being paid for a fare.

“They worried that people were going to jump out of the back of the cab and not pay,” she said. “In a lot of cases, they’re basically using people’s race as a proxy for stereotyping people based on their race as how likely they think someone is to pay a fare.”

A possible solution to that, she said, is to make taxi requests cashless like Uber and Lyft. A star-rating system also could help narrow the racial discrimination gap that exists between black and white riders.

Ultimately, Brown believes her research will be a call to action to change the industries.

“I hope that policy makers will take action with this study. I think it, overall, has a lot of hope in terms of there being a lot of things that can be done to make these services more equitable and close the gap entirely,” she said.