Detroit is facing massive transportation challenges

Uncovering the Hidden Benefits of Ridesharing Services


Ever since the economic downturn, the city of Detroit has been confronted with several challenges including poverty, white flight, racial segregation, and high unemployment rates. Consequently, the city has also reduced or eliminated much of its public transportation infrastructure. Further, a large percentage of the city’s population does not own or have access to cars and both of these factors have resulted in transportation being a major barrier to ‘getting ahead’ or upward social mobility.

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have attempted to change the transportation landscape by providing private access to fleets to cars. Given the many challenges people in Detroit face in accessing transportation, in some of our past work we attempted to understand whether these ride-sharing services could alleviate some of these challenges (Dillahunt et al. 2017). We found that the services have both pros and cons, with one of the major benefits being the opportunities they provide for social interactions between riders and drivers. This piqued our interest, and consequently, we attempted to understand the nature of these interactions in greater detail from the perspective of both riders and drivers (Kameswaran et al. 2018).

We conducted a qualitative study, which included interviews and a diary study with riders, to understand the value of the shared space, i.e the cab. We found that the rich social interactions between riders and drivers resulted in riders acquiring information like job leads and details about local spots in the city, and also finding emotional support from drivers (like encouragement, care, and concern). On the other hand, drivers often sought other drivers out to acquire information to help them with their jobs, like Uber rules and regulations, locations prone to ticketing/surging, and additionally, also reported on forming long-term friendships with riders. In our paper, we argue that these interactions could potentially result in the growth of social and cultural capital, which coincidentally have also been suggested as important barriers to upward social mobility.

Services like Uber and Lyft have come in for a lot of criticism (and rightly so!), especially in the HCI community, primarily because of the inequities in the technology-mediated workplace environments that disempower the workforce, i.e the drivers, and unfairly benefit the franchises. However, we do believe that there are certain benefits to these services as well and this is an important perspective, especially for designers, attempting to design a more holistic ride-sharing ecosystem.

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Tawanna R. Dillahunt, Vaishnav Kameswaran, Linfeng Li, and Tanya Rosenblat. 2017. Uncovering the Values and Constraints of Real-time Ridesharing for Low-resource Populations. In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘17). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2757–2769. DOI:

Vaishnav Kameswaran, Lindsey Cameron, and Tawanna R. Dillahunt. 2018. Support for Social and Cultural Capital Development in Real-time Ridesharing Services. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, Paper 342, 12 pages. DOI:



Vaishnav Kameswaran
Human-Centered Computing Across Borders

U of M Ph.D. student studying 'social' accessibility. I love pizza, ice-cream, afternoon naps, daydreaming and YouTube.