Ride-Hailing Apps May Benefit Poor and Minority Communities

A new study of ride-hailing services in Los Angeles suggests that apps like Uber and Lyft may be dramatically increasing transportation access for minority groups and in lower-income neighborhoods. The impact of this improvement is potentially outsized because those populations have been so poorly served by traditional taxis and are less likely to own private vehicles. Ride-hailing services, then, may be dramatically increasing their overall mobility, particularly in car-centric cities such as Los Angeles.

The new research, conducted by UCLA Ph.D. candidate Anne E. Brown and described by CityLab, used data from Lyft to find that the company’s drivers served 99.8% of Los Angeles and that users living in low-income areas made more trips per capita than those in middle- and high-income areas. The study also found that lower car ownership, which is correlated with lower income and minority status, also correlated to increased Lyft use.

That suggests that what is a situational convenience for higher-income riders is a lifeline to those without cars. Time and again, research has shown that public transport in American cities fails to give more impoverished residents access to jobs,both disadvantaging those individuals, and hampering city economies. While ride-hailing services are generally more expensive for riders than public transit, they’re more convenient and reliable than most bus services, and certainly better than nothing at all.

The discrimination faced by poor and minority communities in the pre-Uber era had at least three elements. Studies and surveys across several major cities have consistently shown that, when hailed on the street, conventional taxis are less likelyto stop for black passengersin particular. Taxis have also long been harder to get in neighborhoods populated by poorer residents, including those in New York City’s outer boroughs.

Though Brown’s findings are limited to Los Angeles, they are likely to influence ongoing fights over regulation between ride-hailing companies and cities.

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