City Hall

Uber and Lyft Are Being Accused of Redlining Again, But Is That Actually Happening?

Even though the new, techie transportation services can often be cheaper than cabs, city officials like to accuse the apps of discriminating against people who live in poor areas.

Most recently, Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill concluded yesterday's transportation meeting by sharing a story about a person who tried to get picked up by a ride-share service. But the prospective customer was unsuccessful. The transportation vendor, she said, rejected the person because of where they were located.

"That to me is redlining," she said. "I, frankly, am tired of being redlined for any service."

Hill did not name which service it was. So it's not clear if she realized that the ride-share services in Dallas are fairly open about where they go and don't go.

Lyft, an inexpensive ride-share app, for example, clearly marks its "Coverage Area" on its website with a square on a map of Dallas -- a square that covers some of southern Dallas but more of the north. Still, Lyft's perimeter around the city is fairly small, also avoiding the suburbs and the airport. It's marked "hot zones," or its busiest spots, are the neighborhoods known for attracting young drinkers with some disposable income -- Uptown, Oak Lawn, Deep Ellum, the Design District and Lower Greenville.

(Asked after the meeting if she was aware of Lyft's designated coverage area, she only said, "Thank you for that information.")

It's not the first time that city officials have accused the alternative services of discrimination. In October, two prominent southern Dallas pastors publicly said that Uber was disenfranchising poor southern Dallas customers by only accepting credit cards. "That means black car service is out of reach for a number of our members since debit and prepaid cards may be their only credit cards," the pastors argued.

The taxicab industry stands to benefit the most from arguments that ride-share apps are redlining. That's because, under city law, cabs are supposed to provide service to all of the city, not just the spots where it's convenient. Limousines, on the other hand, can go anywhere they please under city regulations. And since private limo companies are what Uber mainly works with, that means that the Uber app is similarly able to dispatch drivers to wherever the company chooses.

As for the regular cars billed as "ride-shares," such as Lyft, there aren't any laws on the books yet, much less laws governing where they can and can't go.

Uber, on the other hand, actually offers three types of services -- black limo cars, SUVs, or regular car ride-shares through uber X, the company's answer to Lyft.

Uber's map shows a much broader coverage area than Lyft, extending far into the suburbs, the airport and southern Dallas.

But what about low-income areas? Would someone be able to arrange a ride through any of Uber's services from, say, Pleasant Grove? "Yes, they would be able to but that's on the fringe of our service area and so ETAs may be longer," explains Uber Dallas General Manager Leandre Johns in an email. "When anyone writes in and asks about pickups from fringe areas we just let them know to allow a bit more time when making their request. "

According to price quotes on Uber's website, a ride via uber X from Pleasant Grove to downtown Dallas costs anywhere from $18 to $24.