Sifting Through Bias: Who does e-hail really help?

Taxis have long provided an alternative to relying on public transportation or personal vehicles to commuters and often to a fault. When it comes to accessibility, taxis have long frequented — and favored — cities and airports versus local communities. This disparity is made even more apparent when taking income levels and race into account.

Historically, taxis in the ride-hailing era and beyond have denied picking up passengers due to race in cities such as New York and Washington DC, as an example. A 2013 investigation by a local news station in Washington DC discovered that drivers are 25% less likely to pickup African-American passengers than White passengers.

In New York City yellow cabs would focus their operations below 96th street and at airports, limiting the opportunity for commuters in areas of need. In 2013 New York City attempted to alleviate the taxi problem by introducing green cabs. The green cabs were meant to serve areas that were neglected by yellow cabs, namely the outer boroughs.

The caveat was that green cabs could not pick up riders South of East 96th street or West 110th Street in Manhattan. Green cabs were also free to drop off riders at airports, but could not pick them up unless sent by a dispatcher.

Enter Uber and Lyft, which offer riders the convenience of calling a cab ride with a few taps on their smartphone screen. Uber and Lyft, among others, allow riders to be picked up and dropped off at any location without restrictions.

While Uber and other ride sharing apps have come under fire in cities across the nation for having a negative impact on the taxi industry, the benefits are often far greater — especially from a commuter’s perspective.

In addition to offering a more accessible form of transportation for low income communities and minorities, ridesharing can also be more cost effective. In 2017, NerdWallet conducted a study to determine whether it was cheaper to commute using Uber or a personal vehicle in 20 major metropolitan areas.

The study collected data during the morning and afternoon rush hours, which are typically the busiest commuting times across the nation. NerdWallet compared the cost of the Uber Pool/UberX option and compared it to the cost associated with personal vehicles such as gas, tolls and parking.

It was determined that Uber is actually the cheaper option in 8 out of 20 metro areas: Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami — Ft. Lauderdale, New York/NJ, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Lyft recently released an “economic impact report” for the San Diego area, which looked at the company’s impact in 2018. Lyft reported that commuters saved a total of 3 million commuting hours, which is equivalent to $149 million worth of time saved. The company found a correlation between increased spending in the San Diego county and the percentage of people who explored the city using Lyft.

Given these results, Lyft’s Hao Meng — San Diego Market Manager — has stated that their rideshare services have allowed riders to “connect with their community, support local businesses and commute more efficiently.”

With an emphasis on community, affordability and convenience, it is clear that ridesharing exists to benefit all commuters across the nation. Ridesharing provides an alternative form of transportation (and at times the only viable form of transportation) for riders in and around major metropolitan areas. Where there were once transit deserts and a lack of options for many low income and minority communities, Uber and Lyft — to name a few — are providing a much needed service.