Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Amazon to Bring Same-Day Delivery to Roxbury After Outcry

  • Largely black Boston neighborhood was excluded from service
  • Illinois Congressman wants FTC to investigate delivery areas

Amazon.com Inc. said it will bring same-day delivery to the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston following criticism that the predominantly black community was unfairly excluded from a service provided to the rest of the city and many of its far-flung suburbs.

The move follows an analysis of Amazon same-day delivery areas by Bloomberg Businessweek that highlighted racial disparities in service levels in some cities. Boston was the only city with a hole in its center -- an area where no service was available surrounded on all sides by neighborhoods that received it.

“It’s about simple fairness and being a good corporate citizen,” said city councilman Tito Jackson, who represents Roxbury and encouraged Amazon executives to bring service to the neighborhood. 

“You can’t allow big data to make you a big dummy,” he added in an interview.

Lawmaker’s Appeal

Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, on Tuesday urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Amazon’s same-day delivery boundaries to determine if they are unfair or the company is engaged in deceptive business practices that violate federal laws. Chicago is another city where Amazon’s same-day delivery service excludes black neighborhoods.

“Despite Amazon.com’s assertions of impartiality and a numbers-based approach to the availability of this service, its implementation has been disparate and seemingly, discriminatory,” Rush wrote in a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos. “I urge you to take corrective actions as soon as possible to right these wrongs.”

Amazon started its free same-day service last year as a perk of Amazon Prime membership, which costs $99 a year. It is now available in 27 metropolitan areas. Service boundaries were determined by the concentration of Prime members in each area, proximity to warehouses where goods are stored and the company’s ability to find delivery partners to serve an area. Race played no role in the process, Amazon said.

Bloomberg’s analysis found varying degrees of racial disparity in the service boundaries in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Washington.

Introducing Service

“We are actively working with our local carrier to enable service to the Roxbury neighborhood in the coming weeks,” Amazon said in an e-mail.

The change follows calls by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and U.S. Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, to bring the service to the entire city.

Jackson said he was examining whether Amazon violated the city’s public accommodation laws, which prohibit discrimination based on race. He said the company didn’t offer a good explanation about why Roxbury, at the center of the city, was excluded.

“Their drivers had to drive through Roxbury to make deliveries to other parts of the city,” he said.

The Bloomberg Businessweek analysis highlighted how some decisions based on data can have racially disparate outcomes. Data scientists are studying this more closely to try to avoid such unintended bias.

Roxbury resident JD Nelson was surprised to learn that his neighborhood was excluded from the same-day service when first approached by a Bloomberg reporter earlier this year. On Tuesday, he said he was glad the company decided to bring the service to his community.

“It was really upsetting to look at a map and see Amazon provided this service to every surrounding neighborhood except Roxbury,” said Nelson, 53, who subscribes to Amazon Prime.

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