Minneapolis inspectors plan to do spot checks of Uber and Lyft after new data showed that drivers for the online ride-hailing companies are more likely to reject customers on the North Side.
City business license manager Grant Wilson said city officials will pose as “secret shoppers” to test Uber and Lyft in underserved areas of the city.
Wilson made the decision after reviewing new information revealing that drivers for these ride-hailing services tend to prefer high-traffic and high-profit areas, like downtown, and are less likely to venture to north Minneapolis.
“They don’t want to get away from the heart of city,” said Wilson, who will present the information to the City Council on Tuesday. “It’s like hunting.”
It is the first full year of data since Minneapolis authorized the popular ride services, which City Council members and advocates are hoping will serve the city more evenly. Uber and Lyft are hailed from cellphone applications that connect customers with the closest driver. But the software also allows drivers to reject a potential rider.
The data submitted by Uber and Lyft details information from 25 drivers from each company along with the Minneapolis ZIP codes where they declined the most rides.
From May to July, nearly 3 percent of UberX drivers, the lowest-cost option available, avoided the northern edge of north Minneapolis, while just more than 2 percent avoided the North Dowling Avenue area. Lyft drivers, who serve a smaller coverage area than Uber, dismissed even more trips, about 14.54 percent in the near north areas.
While the numbers do not appear staggering, comments on an online Uber forum show that some drivers are staying away from north Minneapolis.
On an UberPeople forum, an Uber driver created a post titled “How to avoid north Minneapolis.” Drivers on the forum said crime in north Minneapolis underscored their decision to avoid the area at night or altogether.
A driver on the forum said he received north Minneapolis rider requests as far away as Richfield or Bloomington, indicating that drivers closer to north Minneapolis were avoiding that area. If an Uber driver does not respond to a customer request in 10 to 15 seconds, the software automatically transfers the customer to another driver, according to the company.
Lyft officials said the company strives to serve all areas in the Twin Cities.
“If they are in our coverage area, we will do our best to supply rides,” said Danyelle Ludwig, a Lyft spokeswoman. Neither Uber nor Lyft officials would disclose how many drivers they employ in the city.
Uber drivers are not discriminating against areas in the city, said Kenny Tsai, Uber general manager for Minneapolis. He said riders are less likely to get service the farther they are from the center of the city, in any direction.
Some customers in Minneapolis say they notice a difference in service depending on where they are when they send a request.
Jillian Nelson uses Uber to get to and from her home in north Minneapolis to work as an employment consultant for adults with autism. Nelson, 32, said Uber drivers often cancel her rides and make her late for work. “I’ve had a driver ask me if I feel safe living here,” she said.
Unlike taxi services, Uber drivers are paid automatically through the mobile application, eliminating the chance that a customer could run off without paying. Once an Uber customer requests a ride, the rider sees a name and picture of their driver. When a driver cancels a ride, the rider receives a notification and the app re-connects them with the next closest driver.
Anthony Newby, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change executive director, said it takes an Uber driver eight to 10 minutes to pick him up when he seeks a ride in north Minneapolis. In other areas, he waits two to five minutes for a lift.
“North Minneapolis is underserved, period, by transit,” he said. “In some ways, Uber just fits in with the lines of transit in Minneapolis in their disproportionate lack of service.”
When the Minneapolis City Council authorized Uber and Lyft, north Minneapolis City Council Member Blong Yang was the only vote against the measure.
Yang said Uber drivers are using distance as an excuse to avoid north Minneapolis.
City code requires taxi drivers to take all passengers regardless of their location. The city investigates all complaints against taxi drivers who refuse fares, and the driver could face fines. The same is not true for Uber or Lyft drivers. In the future, Wilson said, the city plans have a better and more complete system for logging customer complaints about those services.
Paul Linnee, 69, is a retired taxi driver who drives for Uber. He said that when he was a taxi driver, north Minneapolis was underserved by taxi companies.
Linnee said he often does not have time to check the address he is going to. “Instantly, I accept all assignments,” he said.
Uber does not immediately take action against drivers who cancel rides. Tsai said Uber looks at the top drivers who refused trips to see why they canceled on riders.
“If a driver refuses four trips in a row, they get logged out of a platform,” he said.
Newby said more needs to be done to serve the transportation needs of north Minneapolis.
“I don’t attribute it to the individual driver,” Newby said. “This is much more systemic. It defaults to people’s implicit biases.”