Requesting an Uber or Lyft to a lower-income community? That could cost you – in fact, the algorithms they use may be biased against you, or at least your travel plans.
That is the finding of a study that analyzed transportation and census data in Chicago to see whether there was a disparity in what passengers were charged based on location. The team out of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., assessed more than 100 million trips between November 2018 and December 2019.
What they discovered was that ride-hailing companies charged a higher price per mile for a trip if either the pick-up point or destination had a higher percentage of non-white residents or low-income residents.
Uber and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment.
The report found that passengers being picked up or dropped off in lower-income communities and/or in sectors with minorities were being charged more per mile.
The companies use machine-learning models to forecast which areas will have the highest demand at a given time, based on prior demand.
“The lack of extensive algorithmic regulation and the black-box nature of ridehailing fare pricing algorithms leads to the concern of whether they may be exhibiting bias towards riders based on their demographics,” write the authors, Aylin Caliskan and Akshat Pandey, describing why they undertook the study in the introduction.
This isn’t the first research to show disparities in service for minority communities. A UCLA doctoral dissertation by Anne Brown of UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies published in 2018 found that African-Americans faced longer wait times for taxis, Uber and Lyft – and more cancellations – in Los Angeles than whites, Asians and Hispanics.
The current study comes amid a renewed national conversation about how African-Americans face bias in everyday interactions.
Uber recently pledged to increase Black representation within its ranks amid Black Lives Matter protests.