A stark mobility divide separates American households with and without cars. While households with cars move easily across space, households without cars face limited access to opportunities. But no longer. Ridehail companies such as Uber and Lyft divorce car access from ownership, revolutionizing auto-mobility as we know it. Despite its high-tech luster, we do not yet know how ridehailing serves different neighborhoods and travelers, and who, if anyone, is left behind. The closest historical analog to new ridehail services is the taxi industry, which has a history of discrimination, particularly against black riders and neighborhoods. Ridehail services may discriminate less than taxis and extend reliable car access to neighborhoods underserved by taxis. Or they may not.
In this study, I pose and answer three questions about ridehail access and equity in Los Angeles. First, what explains the geographical distribution of ridehail trips across neighborhoods? Second, what explains ridehail use by individuals? Finally, is there evidence of racial or gender discrimination on ridehail and taxi services? To answer these questions, I relied on two novel data sets. First, I used trip-level data to evaluate ridehail travel in neighborhoods and by individuals. Second, I conducted an audit study of ridehail and taxi services to evaluate if and how wait times and ride request cancellation rates vary by rider race, ethnicity, or gender.
I find that ridehailing extends reliable car access to travelers and neighborhoods previously marginalized by the taxi industry. Ridehailing served neighborhoods home to 99.8 percent of the Los Angeles County population. Strong associations between ridehail use and neighborhood household vehicle ownership suggests that ridehailing provides auto-mobility in neighborhoods where many lack reliable access to cars. For most users, ridehailing filled an occasional rather than regular travel need, and a small share of avid users made the majority of ridehail trips. While hailing shared rides was common in low-income neighborhoods, I also find that people shared less if they lived in racial or ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Finally, audit data reveal high levels of discrimination against black riders by taxi drivers. Black riders were 73 percent more likely than white riders to have a taxi trip cancelled and waited between six and 15 minutes longer than white riders, all else equal. By contrast, ridehail services nearly eliminate the racial-ethnic differences in service quality. Policy and platform-level strategies can erase the remaining mobility gap and ensure equitable access to ridehailing and future technology-enabled mobility services.