Skip to content
CityLab
Transportation

Ride-Hailing's Racial Reckoning

Researchers find that Uber and Lyft may not be as race-blind as many hoped.
An uber drives through traffic in San Francisco.
An uber drives through traffic in San Francisco.Robert Galbraith/REUTERS

When ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft first emerged, many hoped that, in addition to the greater convenience, users would have access to a taxi alternative that’s less prone to racial discrimination. African Americans have long struggled with racism when trying to hail a cab: Comedian Hannibal Buress jokes about it, Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams talk about it on the podcast 2 Dope Queens, and ESPN’s Doug Glanville has written about it in The Atlantic. In 2012, Latoya Peterson, who’s now at ESPN’s The Undefeated, wrote of Uber that ”[t]he premium car service removes the racism factor when you need a ride.” In 2014, Jenna Wortham, a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, agreed that ride-hailing services ushered in a quality of life improvement in a Medium post. But she also raised concerns about whether the discrimination was gone or just less obvious:

Turns out, Wortham was on the money. A new working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that for African Americans, these trips are by no means discrimination-free. A black man calling an Uber in Boston is three times as likely have his request cancelled than a white man.