According to a recent study, Uber drivers do in fact discriminate against black and female passengers. Researchers from the University of Washington, Stanford and MIT conducted a two-year study of Flywheel, Lyft, and Uber passengers in Seattle and Boston. The study reviewed almost 1500 rides in both cities.
The researchers found that black riders using UberX ended up waiting anywhere between 29 and 35% longer than others similarly situated white passengers. The study also found that females were regularly taken on rides that were longer than necessary and ended up being frequently overcharged. The study also discovered that people requesting rides with “African-American sounding” names were canceled disproportionately by drivers when compared to riders requesting with” white sounding” names.
As background, Uber drivers have some control over what rights to accept and what areas to drive in. The drivers can cancel any ride request. An Uber driver can effectively take themselves out of any area by simply logging off the Uber app. For example, if an Uber driver picks up a ride on South Beach and takes that passenger to Miami Gardens and the Uber driver does not want to accept any rides from Miami Gardens then he/she can simply turn off the Uber app. Then they drive to an area and when they want to accept new rides they turn the Uber app back on.
Ironically Uber claimed in 2015 that taxicabs would often refuse to take people to or pick up from minority neighborhoods but Uber did not discriminate like taxis. After this most recent study the Uber spokesperson predictably stated that discrimination has no place in Uber or in society. But the question remains what will Uber do about it.
If we look at Uber’s gun policy it could be instructive. Uber’s official policy position on firearms is that passengers and drivers are prohibited from carrying firearms of any kind in a vehicle while using the Uber app. But the real question is enforcement and whether Uber has any interest in addressing discrimination.
Any analysis of Uber usually begins and ends with the issue of profit. Consider Uber’s firearm policy. After making the policy statement the only effort at enforcement comes after the fact when a rider or driver carries or uses a gun and it comes to Uber’s attention. We believe the same approach by Uber will be employed when it comes to discrimination.
As presently designed, Uber cannot directly force its drivers to drive in any particular area. If it were to do that Uber would be at risk of becoming an employer. Uber’s business model is founded on the concept that Uber drivers are independent contractors who partner with Uber to provide a service.
Legally if a company like Uber exercises too much control over independent contractors on issues like when and where drivers must work, then Uber could be determined to be an employer. If Uber is legally determined to be an employer, then its bottom line would suffer greatly. An employer becomes liable for taxes, unemployment, worker compensation claims as well as a host of other costs. Those costs would reduce the profitably of Uber which would affect its value and ultimately investors.
One of the greatest risks Uber faces is having their drivers being legally designated as employees. Uber’s goal is to eventually phase out their independent contractor drivers in favor of driverless cars. Again, it is all about profit.
So while Uber will release statements to the press and issue policy statements, do not expect that the discrimination will end or even decrease. Uber drivers will continue to do whatever they can to earn money in the safest way possible. The only thing that governs Uber drivers are ratings and so long as their ratings do not fail below an acceptable limit, it is unlikely that they will suffer any consequences for subtle or not so subtle discrimination.
If you have been injured in any way involving Uber or Lyft, including discriminatory practices, then you should call the Miami Uber accident lawyers at Wolfson & Leon for your free consultation at (305) 285-1115.