In an economy where we can order anything via smartphone, seeing the name and photo of the person on the other side of a transaction makes the process a lot more personal--sometimes, more than it needs to be.

That's according to a report that examines the racial discrimination among Lyft and Uber drivers. The study, conducted by researchers from Stanford University, MIT, and the University of Washington, involved four black passengers and four white passengers--evenly split between genders--who ordered nearly 1,500 rides.

Over a period of six weeks, they ordered rides in Seattle through Uber and Lyft using real photos of themselves. In Boston, they used racially ambiguous photos, under either black-sounding or white-sounding names. Uber drivers, who must accept the ride before seeing passengers' names and photos, disproportionately canceled on people with black-sounding names--despite the company's policy of penalizing for frequent cancelations.

Lyft drivers, who see names and photos before accepting passengers, did not cancel on black passengers (or those with black-sounding names) as often. This is likely because they have an opportunity to screen certain passengers upfront, the researchers said. In Seattle, researchers found black riders consistently waited up to 35 percent longer than white passengers.

The study also found women passengers were sometimes taken on longer rides than men and "reported 'chatty' drivers who drove extremely long routes, on some occasions, even driving through the same intersection multiple times," the study read. To avoid this perceived mix of flirting and profit-maximizing behavior, researchers suggested upfront fares, a practice Uber has already implemented.

To combat racism among drivers accepting passengers, researchers suggest not disclosing passenger names. They also say harsher penalties for excessive cancelations and more frequent reviews of driver behaviors could combat racially discriminatory practices.

Uber and Lyft both responded, saying they do not tolerate discrimination and that ridesharing benefits communities that have historically been underserved by taxi drivers.

Published on: Oct 31, 2016