Metro Weekly

DC’s rideshare drivers more likely to cancel on LGBTQ, black riders

Study into rideshare apps found LGBTQ people and allies were twice as likely to have a ride request canceled

Source: uber – Flickr

Rideshare drivers in D.C. are more likely to cancel on LGBTQ and black riders, according to a new study.

“When Transparency Fails: Bias and Financial Incentives in Ridesharing Platforms,” analyzed drivers on a “major” ride-sharing platform in the District, NBC News reports.

It found drivers were twice as likely to cancel on LGBTQ people and allies and three times as likely to cancel on black people.

Study authors Chris Parker and Jorge Meija from American University — who didn’t confirm whether it was Uber or Lyft that was used — created multiple profiles, each with a 4.8 out of 5 rating.

The profiles included black women, black men, white women, and white men. Rainbow filters were then applied to certain profiles, to add the perception that they either belonged to LGBTQ people or LGBTQ-supporting allies.

In order to determine bias, the authors called rides for the profiles and waited three minutes to see if the driver canceled — if the driver didn’t cancel they revoked the ride request (which grants the driver a cancellation fee).

After analyzing 3,200 interactions between October and November last year, they found that drivers were less likely to cancel on riders that were white and perceived to be straight.

“We know that LGBTQ riders face discrimination with these rideshare apps,” Parker said, “but we thought that it was an interesting little twist, that even just signaling your support for the LGBTQ community could result in a canceled ride.”

They observed no notable bias in terms of gender between people of the same race, but both black women and black men were almost three times as likely to be canceled on as white men and women.

For profiles with a rainbow filter, passengers were more than twice as likely to be canceled on, regardless of race.

However, while black profiles were less likely to be canceled on during peak hours, LGBTQ-supporting profiles faced similar cancellation rates regardless of the time of day.

The study did note that black LGBTQ-supportive profiles did not face greater cancellations than white LGBTQ-supportive profiles.

Parker said the research suggests that recent changes to ridesharing apps to remove bias — such as only showing profile data after a request has been accepted — has not been as effective as hoped.

He also said that rideshare companies may want to consider penalizing drivers who consistently show bias in their cancellations.

“There’s a lot of next-step actions platforms might consider to ensure a good outcome and that everybody has a safe, comfortable, noncombative ride,” Parker told NBC News.

Uber and Lyft have both faced issues with riders exhibiting anti-LGBTQ animus.

Earlier this month, Uber banned a driver who was accused of kicking a lesbian couple out of her car after they kissed.

And last year transgender riders said that Uber’s new ID check system was getting them suspended from the app, should there be a discrepancy between a transgender person’s driver’s license photo and their profile picture.

In June 2018, a gay D.C. bartender accused an Uber driver of kicking him out of his car due to homophobia, after hearing him use words perceived as gay vocabulary during a phone call.

While Lyft has made strides to support LGBTQ riders — including adding gender neutral pronouns to its app — it has faced similar anti-LGBTQ incidents, including a gay couple in Indianapolis being ordered out of their rideshare after they kissed.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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