Edit: Firstly, I apologize for not getting involved in the comments -- y'all overwhelmed me. I'm working my way through them, though.
Secondly, thanks to the Uber and Lyft drivers who have messaged me offering to come get me in Watts -- I am sure there are many drivers who will. My issue is with a corporate policy that seems to allow drivers to choose not to.
Ridesharing and the new "Sharing Economy" are growing increasingly popular in Los Angeles and that's a problem. When we talk about a sharing economy, it turns out that we only want to share with people who don't make us feel uncomfortable.
A question I've had since the emergence of ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft was recently answered when I asked a driver whether they redlined. He didn't understand the question -- he didn't know what redlining was -- so I asked him if he'd take a fare to Watts at night. He looked at me like I was crazy.
One driver, not a pattern. Then the redlining question became an issue in Dallas, which fed my concern. I work in Watts and I've never seen a pink mustache anywhere south of the 10 freeway and East of Crenshaw, but that might be just me. I visited both companies websites to learn more about how they operate, but neither one gives a clear answer to the simple question:
"If my pick-up location or my destination is in an area which, by reputation, is considered dangeorus or poor, can Lyft or Uber drivers refuse to serve me?"
It turns out, I learned today, that the answer is a definitive "YES."
The disturbing details follow beyond the jump.
It began (as many disturbing things do) on Reddit. I replied to aposting regarding ride-sharing and the inequality in taxations between them and traditional taxi services with the following comment:
(All emphases in the block quotes that follow are mine.)
My real issue with Uber and Lyft is the fact that they aren't regulated when it comes to choosing passengers. I work in Watts and I have never once seen an Uber or Lyft car anywhere in the area. I asked a Lyft driver about redlining and he was confused by my question. He told me that he shouldn't have to drive somewhere he didn't feel safe. Effectively, Lyft and Uber are cherry-picking the "promising" and "safe" clients, reserving any savings and convenience they create for wealthier people in better neighborhoods.
Taxis are required by law to serve all members of our community and until Lyft and Uber are forced to operate under the same rules, I won't use them.
I didn't think anything more of it until I got a response:
I drive for uber.
No fucking way am I going to pick people up in a crime ridden area, I don't have a death wish or desire to get mugged.
If I have just dropped off in a scary area, I'll turn off the app, drive back to a better area, then turn it back on.
Of course im going to stick to places where people spend money and hang out, nearly all rides are related to social gatherings.
If you don't have money and want to take an uber from a scary area, what sane driver would pick you up?
Would you pick up passengers from shady spots? Of course not.
Cherry picking? you mean not getting mugged / shot / carjacked.
I can 'reject' any passenger before I even pick them up at all.
I get to see how other drivers have rated them (1 to 5 stars), and either pick them up or pass the ride on to another uber driver.
I don't pick up anyone below 4 stars, regardless as to where I'm at.
If someone is being stupid in the vehicle, I can kick them out immediately.
Yet it never happens because 100% of the passengers I've had are chill, normal, sane people.
What he has just described is de facto redlining. He is expressing his refusal to serve potential clients based solely on their geographic location.
I pointed this out to him and he said it wasn't redlining. I asked him whether he knew what redlining meant and he responded with:
I pick up passengers of any nationality, so long as they look "normal" enough. (not on drugs, super drunk, or just anyone being an asshole)
I don't pick up people from untrusted areas.
It is up to me as a driver to determine who i dont feel threatened by, when i pick them up.
And this is a problem. Knowing it was futile and already having an Uber driver on record defending his right to redline poor and minority neighborhoods, I tried to end the conversation:
I don't think we're going to come to agreement on this.
He wasn't done digging his hole:
Its super clear where we stand.
You like the current Taxi laws and want them enforced on the new and different Rideshare services, like uber/lyft/sidecar/rodeo/toro etc.
I like safety and choice when it comes to who and where i elect to pick up.
Your framing is lopsided.
I like the current anti-redlining laws (in all industries, not just taxis -- banks,mortgage lenders, and licensed contractors also abide by them) because without them, neighborhoods that struggle economically are cut out from services that beneefit better neighborhoods. As someone who lives and works in struggling neighborhoods, I can attest to the fact that they are necessary tools for reducing de-facto discrimination.
I absolutely understand your reluctance to service my neighborhoods. Sometimes Watts can be frightening, especially if you don't know it, but that doesn't mean that the 99% of people who live here who aren't dangerous and who are both less likely to own cars and more likely to need ride opportunities due to poor public transit service, should be denied them.
Currently, Uber and Lyft are killing cabs because you are cheaper and cooler. Part of the reason you're cheaper is because you aren't taxed and regulated as highly. Part of the reason you're cooler is because Lyft and Uber drivers are generally English-speaking, friendly, helpful young men and women. I see the appeal, but since you are currently free to not serve my neighborhood, it means that the taxis that you are killing are my only option and I'm watching it whither away.
I wish you would reconsider your position.
And then it gets bad. This Uber driver goes on to explain that he as an Uber driver should not be forced to work in areas of town that he finds concerning and that if poor people don't like it -- they should stop being poor and move somewhere nice. You think I'm kidding? I'm not:
I agree, its a shame that a person who lives in a poor area, is stigmatized by their neighbors who make it a scary place to go pick someone up.
Sure, that sucks for those who live there to be denied a ride.
But it doesnt mean that the law should FORCE me to put myself in danger.
The 'redlining laws' sound good, but there must be exceptions to their altruism to accommodate for the driver's safety and comfort.
You're coming at it strictly from the view of a would-be passenger, while completely ignoring the concerns of another human in the equation, the driver.
In this way, your view is "lopsided."
If you want me to reconsider driving to your scary area, then make the area not an actual hazard to me as a person.
Here, try this.
Be an uber driver, but ONLY drive in scary areas, problem solved!
oh wait, you want to work in the profitable places too?
You want to take passengers who can afford to go long distances? (short trips are a waste of time and actually cost me money)
Then dont live in a low income area where people dont travel to, to hang out, and have enough money to make it likely that i will do more than "break even".
You cant expect me to put my life at risk to LOSE money
Again, all the emphasis is mine. My original question has been answered and now I have new ones:
I have 2 drivers defending redlining; how many drivers do I need in order to establish a tacit corporate policy?
Why on Earth aren't more people up in arms about this?
Why are so many otherwise thoughtful decent people swinging on the Uber and Lyft bandwagons when they are, in essence, facilitating a return to institutional racism by choosing a service that is specifically not obligated by the protections we as a society agreed many years ago were necessary in order to preserve equal access?
Please think about this if you're an Uber or Lyft user -- maybe reconsider and take a well-regulated taxi until things change.