There are two types of possible racial discrimination with ride-share driving, the racial discrimination of drivers and the racial discrimination for passengers. Both might suffer from actual discrimination, or both might suffer from personal perception. There are two more factors to include in all of this, how drivers choose passengers and how maps are displayed.
An interesting study performed by Stanford University published a ground shaking conclusion, rideshare drivers discriminate passengers that are minorities. The aftermath was a lot of media and social media chatting about how racist and sexist rideshare drivers are, some with personal stories to substantiate their claims and others just fueling the flames of hatred.
To fully understand how Stanford got its results, it's important to read the research article and understand the methodology employed as well as talk to ride-share drivers and passenger to get their insight.
Ride Share Driver Input
Drivers are quite open about their personal feelings, some more than others. There are certain tendencies to steer clear of certain kinds of customers and certain ethnic groups. In most cases, the color of the skin is not an issue. Here is a list of passenger types that are not favored by most drivers:
Passengers with low ratings: Ratings are a Ubers way to show if a person is good or bad for the Uber environment. The higher the passenger rating, the better chance you are of getting a nice quite and sometimes interesting ride. Passengers that rate below 4.6 should make a driver think twice before accepting.
Drunk Passengers: We all know that the busiest hours are when people flock to parties, bars, and events, and invariably drink more than they need to. While a lot of drunks are harmless, some can be seriously problematic, and unless you are a seasoned driver with a lot of "drunk" experience, you should steer clear of them.
Bad Neighborhoods are a major issue with drivers. Some cities have exceptionally dangerous neighborhoods, and just the thought of driving through them makes your skin crawl and a cold sweat to break out. Since destinations are now a mandatory issue with some ride-share companies, it's easier for the driver to ascertain where the trip starts and finishes. Many drivers will refuse to take rides that are in what they consider problematic areas. Cancelling a ride after finding out the destination can cause rate issues for a driver.
Pets and Service Dogs are always an occurrence. The golden rule for pets is that a driver can refuse if he thinks the pet poses a threat or a nuisance to a ride. A driver cannot refuse a service animal, and ethically it is wrong to do so, be even more so, its illegal as well.
So far we have only discussed types of passengers, not racial discrimination, so now let's look at this issue closer.
The Study Results
The Stanford Study was a major research project; it looked at cancellations from both angles. Drivers that canceled on a passenger with "ethnic" names and passengers that canceled rides because the driver had an "ethnic" name. Since both can see the name of the other, the study found that almost double cancellations were afforded to people with "black-sounding" names. While drivers can ignore requests from passengers and not get penalized, this finding is quite interesting and requires a further study to ascertain the causes.
The Uber app
Ever since Uber instigates the earnings to boost incentive program, the Uber drivers have been given incentives to drive for a certain amount of time in a particular area, and all designed to increase the drivers, and Ubers income. When looking at the LA market, you see a pattern emerging that proves drivers are not racist at all, but in fact promoted to work only in certain areas for increased income. Without boosts and guarantees, most Uber drivers would not find working so profitable.
Ubers bost area map of LA shows a clear picture of where drivers should work to increase their income. This map shows most directly, how Uber has charted the map to outline areas with certain racial demographic characteristics. This mapping algorithm is focusing incentives on a more "Caucasian" area and suggests avoiding the "Black" and "Latino" areas completely.
Real Life (not research)
A driver in LA in Culver City will receive a boost that offers a 1.5x boost for all Northbound rides while the boost will ignore all south drive, leaving them at 1.0x. Obviously, drivers of all races would prefer to drive north. The southern LA demographic is mainly black; this means that all drivers (of all races) will prefer to drive north, does this make them racists? No, it makes them prefer only one color over all others; Green.
The Stanford Research claimed that "black sounding" names were ignored more than "white-sounding" names. Perhaps they should consider that the "black sounding" names were not included in the boost. If Southern LA were given a 2x boost then you could claim that the racism was set against "white-sounding" names since most drivers would drive south rather then north.
When drivers start in a high boost zone, even when they deliver to South LA, they will turn off their app to return as quickly as possible to the high boost zone and get better rates, rather than chance getting a lower rate in the South and being stuck in that zone earning less. It's a ground proven the fact that drivers from these areas prefer to work in high boost zones rather than work close to home, and all to receive a higher income.
The research paper might be true in some parts of the US, we are not blinkered to what is going on, but in most major cities, its just isn't true.