Racial and anti-LGBTQ+ bias persists in ridesharing services even though companies have taken steps to reduce it, according to a new study from Indiana University Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business — and the authors believe they’re the first to show that an indication of support for LGBTQ+ equality can trigger this bias.
“Platforms such as Uber, Lyft and Via responded to drivers’ biased behavior by removing information that could indicate a rider’s gender and race from initial ride requests,” says a press release from the university. “However, researchers still found that biases against underrepresented groups and those who indicate support for the LGBT community continued to exist after drivers accepted a ride request — when the rider’s picture would then be displayed.”
Jorge Mejia, assistant professor of operations and decision technologies at IU Bloomington, and coauthor Chris Parker, assistant professor in the information technology and analytics department at American University in Washington, D.C., did a field experiment on a ridesharing platform in Washington in the fall of 2018.
“They randomly manipulated rider names, using those traditionally perceived to be white or Black, as well as profile pictures to observe drivers’ behavior patterns in accepting and canceling rides,” the press release notes. “To illustrate support for LGBT rights, the authors overlaid a rainbow filter on the rider’s picture profile.”
“We found that underrepresented minorities are more than twice as likely to have a ride canceled than Caucasians; that’s about 3 percent versus 8 percent,” Mejia said in the release. “There was no evidence of gender bias.”
“Our results confirm that bias at the ride request stage has been removed,” he added. “However, after ride acceptance, racial and LGBT biases are persistent. … We show that signaling support for a social cause — in our case, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — can also impact service provision. Riders who show support for the LGBT community, regardless of race or gender, also experience significantly higher cancellation rates.” Mejia and Parker believe they’re the first to show that support for a social cause can lead to cancellation.
The coauthors suggested that ridesharing companies could penalize drivers who exhibit bias by giving them lower priority for ride assignments, or perhaps offer an incentive to avoid bias by providing “badges” for drivers with low cancellation rates. But legislative solutions may be needed as well, they said.
“It may be necessary for policymakers to mandate what information can be provided to a driver to ensure an unbiased experience, while maintaining the safety of everyone involved, or to create policies that require ridesharing platforms to monitor and remove drivers based on biased behavior,” Mejia said. “Careful attention should be paid to these policies both before and after implementation, as unintended consequences are almost sure to follow any simple fix.”
The full study, titled “When Transparency Fails: Bias and Financial Incentives in Ridesharing Platforms,” was published in the journal Management Science.