Ridesharing Apps

How Uber Drivers Might Be Ripping You Off

Have you ever wondered why your ride cost more than you thought it should?
How Uber Drivers Might Be Ripping You Off
Image credit: Getty Images | Andrew Burton

No, you're not being paranoid if you suspect that an Uber or Lyft driver canceled your ride request because of your race or gender, took you for an unnecessary detour or failed to report your ride had ended once you arrived at your destination. The results of a recent study suggest that your distrust was warranted.

Researchers at MIT, Stanford and the University of Washington recently found that black passengers hailing UberX or Lyft rides in Seattle waited up to 35 percent longer for rides than white customers. Across nearly 1,500 trips in the Seattle and Boston metropolitan areas, passengers with African-American-sounding names experienced cancellations more than twice as frequently as those with white-sounding names.

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These are some of the disturbing findings published last week in a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NEBR), titled, “Racial and Gender Discrimination in Transportation Network Companies.” The authors explore potential strategies that ridesharing companies and their users could adopt in order to eliminate this type of bias, such as obscured passenger identities.

Drivers, who are independent contractors, rather than employees, have the freedom to choose the areas in which they seek riders. In the NEBR study, males with African-American-sounding names requesting rides in low-density areas were more than three times as likely to find their trip canceled than if they used a white-sounding name. A University Transportation Research Center report published in August examined the negative impacts of ridesharing companies on the underserved communities they purport to help.

In Boston, the NEBR authors also found evidence of drivers taking female passengers for 5 percent longer -- and more expensive -- rides than men. Their analysis also showed that rides tended to last longer during times of high demand and above-standard prices.

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Here are the ways in which drivers have been found to rip off female passengers:

  • Women were charged higher fares as a result of a driver starting their trips prior to pick-up -- or failing to end it once she had exited the vehicle.
  • In some cases, drivers had lengthy conversations with female riders, meanwhile taking them on excessively long routes -- even through the same intersection multiple times.

To alleviate this problem, the authors propose that ridesharing companies establish more fixed fares.

Edition: December 2016

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