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Low income Seattle neighborhoods see lower Uber wait times

Per the study, every $10,000 increase in a neighborhood’s average income meant a 2.3 percent increase in expected wait time

Maybe this is surprising and maybe it’s not. We’re not entirely sure what to make of it ourselves but according to a new University of Washington study, you’re more likely to have a shorter wait time for your Uber pick-up in a lower income Seattle neighborhood than a higher one.

The point, according to senior author Don MacKenzie, a UW assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, was to determine if rideshare companies were “providing equitable access for all their customers.”

First, they used census data to determine average income, percentage of minorities, population density and employment density for each Seattle neighborhood that was served by Uber. Then they collected estimated wait times for an UberX vehicle during the summer of 2015 for two months. They ended up with almost one million observed rides.

To no one’s surprise, they found that dense neighborhoods like Downtown Seattle lad the lowest wait times (less than four minutes) and most neighborhoods had wait times under ten minutes. But even when they adjusted their data for the effects of population and employment density, they found that lower income neighborhoods received better service from UberX in terms of wait length.

The way they broke it down, every $10,000 increase in the neighborhood’s average income was associated with a 2.3 percent increase in expected wait time.

They did note that racially diverse neighborhoods with more minorities sometimes had longer waits and shorter waits at different times of the day but the effect of that demographic makeup was “close to zero.”

“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.’”