One reason why Uber is developing self-driving vehicles might have to do with an age-old problem: discrimination.
African American Uber customers waited 35% longer and were more likely to face cancellations than white riders, a survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research think tank discovered. Men of color trying to use UberX were more likely to face discrimination.
African-American Lyft customers were just as likely face discrimination as Uber customers, Bureau research analyzed by Newsweek indicates. Many of the cancellations involved drivers who simply refused to haul black riders.
The source of the problem is not Lyft or but the drivers employed by the service. Like cab drivers, a Lyft or Uber driver out in the field is in a position to simply not take a fare or play games to not haul him or her.
Uber vs. Discrimination
The discrimination underscores a major problem that Uber is facing. It only cares about the color of the rider’s money, but some drivers are motivated by human prejudices.
The algorithm operating a self-driving car would not be motivated by prejudice or fear. It would pick up anybody and take them to the final destination regardless of race, creed or color.
Uber’s goal is to turn transportation into a commodity that is available to as many customers as possible. It wants to sell rides in the same way that Walmart and Amazon sell groceries and socks to anybody that can afford to buy. That creates a mass market and generates maximum profits.
Interestingly enough Uber has done a pretty job of reducing discrimination, the Institute discovered. African American customers in Seattle waited longer but the wait was only a few seconds longer.
Nor was it just color some drivers discriminated against. In Boston, Uber and Lyft drivers were more likely to cancel rides from people with names such as Darnell, Aisha and Rasheed that are viewed as African American.
Some of the Institute’s research also indicates that Uber is no better at eliminating discrimination than traditional cab companies. That provides another argument for self-driving vehicles.
One of the big arguments against cab companies in the United States is that taxi drivers regularly refuse to give rides to a wide variety of passengers. That includes African Americans and persons whose clothes indicate that they are poor.
An argument for Uber is that ridesharing apps can prevent that. Unfortunately that’s not true because human beings are still driving the cars. The person behind the wheel is still the weakest leak in Uber’s system.