uber racism

Black woman quoted more than white man for the exact same Uber ride in Toronto

Two people with near-identical Uber ratings, going from the same Point A to the same Point B at the exact same time, should in theory be quoted the exact same price... right? Or at least somewhere within the same ballpark?

A powerful image of two friends from Toronto, one Black and one white, showing off the vastly different rates they were recently quoted by the ride-sharing app — for the same ride, at the same time — has people all over the world discussing such questions this week, as well as once again sounding the alarm over racial bias in algorithms.

Toronto-based artist recording artist Adam Bomb tweeted the photo in question on Sunday around 4:30 p.m. 

In it, we see two hands, both holding phones with the Uber app on display. Both app users appear to have requested a ride from the same address on Christie Street to the music venue Rebel at Polson Pier. The rides were requested within seconds of each other.

And yet, the disparity between the rates quoted to each customer is huge: The phone on the left, held by a Black woman, shows a price of $57.80 for an UberX seven minutes away. The phone on the right, held by a white man, shows the same vehicle and time option for just $32.58.

Had the duo decided to get an UberXL, Adam would have been charged $60.43, while his friend would have been charged $109.56. That's an insane discrepancy, any way you slice it.

While the original post doesn't specifically accuse Uber of changing its rates based on race, many of the nearly 5,000 quote tweets and 800+ replies to it do.

Even Uber itself brought up the issue of race when replying to the tweet on Monday afternoon, writing that "Uber is committed to being an anti-racist company and has no space for discrimination."

"Hi Adam, The surge prices applied are different (you can see 'Fares are a lot higher' vs. 'Fares are higher')," wrote the American tech juggernaut. "Surge pricing changes in real-time and has nothing to do with the identity of the rider."

While surge pricing is common (a little too common, some might say) in Toronto, prices usually change over a span of time, growing more and less expensive as demand waxes and wanes. But Adam and his friend ordered their Ubers at the same time. 

"We ordered three seconds apart with her being first," he clarified on Twitter. "The same arrival time is proof that it was ordered simultaneously. If the first order caused the spike, mine should've been more expensive."

And for everyone trying to poke holes, he also later explained that neither he nor his friend had a promo code in place and that their star ratings were nearly the same (he's a 4.89, she's a 4.87).

While there are certainly many things we don't know that could have led to the price discrepancy (maybe the app glitched? maybe Uber likes Telus more than Bell?), the tweet is sparking wider conversations about algorithmic discrimination.

There's no debating that many types of tech have harmful, built-in biases, only whether or not these particular Uber prices were influenced by race.

Many Twitter users believe that they were, and they're replying with their own stories to show that what happened to Adam and his friend was not unique.

"Racism at its finest," wrote one. "The app did the same thing for me and my hubby before we were married."

"Finally someone brought this up," wrote another. "Idk how many times I cry about this to my bff like wtf is going on."

"I'm f*cking screaming. My boyfriend and I did the exact same thing this morning when he was getting me a ride home to my house," wrote another Twitter user still.

"Ours came out the same thing… but I've always suspected they do this sh*t."

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