Uber is faster in low income Seattle neighborhoods, study finds

SEATTLE -- Your wait for an Uber in Seattle is shorter if you are in a lower income neighborhood, a University of Washington study finds. On the flipside, that means you will wait longer for a ride if you are in wealthier areas.

UW assistant professor Don MacKenzie and his team compared Uber service across different neighborhoods in Seattle, using U.S. census data to calculate the average income, percentage of minorities, population density, and employment density.

“We found that all else being equal, lower income areas have a shorter average waiting time for an UberX. That was completely not what we expected to find,” said senior author Don MacKenzie, a UW assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

The study was performed over a two-month period in summer 2015, and nearly 1 million rides were analyzed.

“The bottom line is, this is good news,” MacKenzie said.

“We know that there are many other ways inequities and discrimination can arise, and the requirement for a smartphone and electronic payment can also present structural barriers to using these services for those with low incomes or poor credit. But at least geographically, adequate access to TNC services is not necessarily restricted just to areas that are ‘white and wealthy.’”

The study also determined that racially diverse neighborhoods with more minorities saw longer wait times at some periods of the day and shorter waits at others, but, in the end, everything averaged out.

“What we’ve found is a fairly equitable distribution of service based on income and percentage of minorities in census block groups in Seattle,” said co-author Ryan Hughes, a former UW graduate student who is now a transportation engineer at Clark Dietz in Illinois.

Ride-sourcing companies like Uber and its competitor Lyft broke into the urban transportation market about four years ago and have grown in popularity among customers seeking point-to-point rides on demand, often for less money than traditional taxicabs.

Uber is by far the largest such company, with more than 327,000 drivers in the U.S. in September 2015.

The paper was published in the October issue the Journal of Transport Geography.