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Did Uber Just Enable Discrimination by Destination?

In California, the ride-hailing company is changing a policy used as a safeguard against driver discrimination against low-income and minority riders.
California's Uber drivers are gaining a feature that their counterparts in other states lack: the ability to see where a potential passenger is going.
California's Uber drivers are gaining a feature that their counterparts in other states lack: the ability to see where a potential passenger is going.Jennifer Sinco Kelleher/AP

If you call an Uber to bring you to a low-income neighborhood in Oakland or Los Angeles, you might have to wait longer than you used to—and it’s possible you won’t be matched with a driver at all. These are potential consequences of changes Uber quietly announced in its driver platform in California last week. Drivers in that state will now be able to see each would-be passenger’s destination upfront—before the ride is accepted. As a result, California cities could now have a new ride-hailing worry to add to their growing list: discrimination based on a rider’s destination.

Some context: Historically, ride-hail drivers have been able to see just the origin—not the destination—of a requested trip before deciding whether to accept it. Only when a trip begins will a driver know if a passenger wants to travel one mile or ten (longer trips are generally more lucrative), or whether the journey will end in a wealthy neighborhood or a low-income one. Although drivers have grumbled about their inability to know destinations ex ante, the status quo helped insulate ride-hailing companies from the accusations of discrimination that have dogged the taxi industry for decades. Because requested destinations are hidden, it’s been hard for a ride-hail driver to avoid servicing a particular neighborhood.