Although rideshare apps have previously reported tackling discriminatory practices as a priority, bias against Blacks, people from the LGBTQ community and those that support them still exists.
According to findings released in a study titled, “When Transparency Fails: Bias and Financial Incentives in Ridesharing Platforms,” which was revised on Sept. 23 from its initial release on July 27, 2018, not much has changed despite efforts to alleviate the problem.
“By removing the ability to see information before the drivers accepted a ride request, the hope was that all the bias we were observing would cease to exist,” Chris Parker, an assistant professor of information technology and analytics at American University and the co-author of the study, told NBC News.
“But after the change was instituted, we suspected that there’s still the problem of some drivers not wanting to pick up certain passengers,” he added.
Parker and co-author Jorge Meija, an assistant professor of operations and decision technologies at Indiana University, created an account with multiple rideshare profiles to test whether some passengers were being discriminated against, NBC reports.
Four pictures were used to create the profiles: one was a Black woman named Keisha or Latoya, one was a Black male named Rasheed or Jamal, one was a white female named Emily or Allison, and finally, a white male named Brad or Greg.
Parker and Meija created the profiles based on a 2004 study, which showed how at least 92 percent of people perceive Emily, Allison, Brad and Greg as Caucasian names and Keisha, Latoya, Rasheed and Jamal, names they deemed more likely to be associated with Black individuals, NBC reports.
To show that a passenger was LGBTQ or supported the LGBTQ community, Parker Meija added a rainbow filter to some of the profiles, according to NBC.
The researchers recorded 3,200 observations from early October to mid-November of 2018 in which they ordered rides from a ridesharing platform in Washington, D.C., at a Metro stop.
For each ride, the researchers would change the gender, race, rainbow filter and timing of the ride requests, NBC reports.
Each driver was given three minutes to cancel if they no longer wanted to accept a ride. Researchers believed this time timeframe allowed for the drivers to determine the riders’ race, gender, and perceived sexuality or LGBTQ support, according to NBC.
Parker and Meija would then cancel the rides themselves if the driver hadn’t after the three minutes so the driver would be paid a cancellation fee.
However, for the rides that did get canceled, researchers determined that both Black men and Black women were nearly three times more likely to be canceled on than their white peers. As for the rainbow filter, cancellations nearly doubled for those passengers.
“We know that LGBTQ riders face discrimination with these rideshare apps,” Parker told NBC, “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.”
Regardless of the hour — peak or nonpeak hours — the rainbow filter resulted in higher cancellation rates.
But during peak hours, when rush-hour increased rideshare rates, Black riders saw a decrease in cancellations, the study showed, NBC reports.
Researchers suggest penalizing drivers who exhibit biased cancellation behavior and rewarding those that do not.
Parker told NBC, “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.”