A Viral Tweet About Uber’s Price Disparity Has Toronto Locals Raising Questions About Race

"100% we'll never use Uber again," says one Toronto resident.

A Viral Tweet About Uber’s Price Disparity Has Toronto Locals Raising Questions About Race

Two Toronto locals have some questions for the ride-hailing service Uber after noticing a significant price disparity on the app Sunday afternoon.

Digital marketer Adam Ferreira and professional makeup artist Joanne Parks were looking for two Ubers on their phones in Toronto's Dupont and Christie area on August 15, when they noticed that Parks, who is a Black woman, was being charged a much higher amount than Ferreira, a white man, for the same ride.

"We were all going down with a group of six, so we were both ordering a ride each," Ferreira told Narcity over the phone. Ferreira said Parks was quoted $57.80, whereas he was quoted $32.58. The two double-checked their apps to see if a glitch or a technical problem had caused the issue. They tried booking another Uber, but were met with the same results again.

"It's surreal," Parks told Narcity. "We thought, 'wow, this is messed up. Is this what we think it is?'"

Ferreira took to Twitter minutes after the incident and posted a photo of both their phones with the caption, "Just tell me the reason isn't what I think it is, @Uber." The tweet has amassed nearly 30,000 retweets and hundreds of responses since.

Parks believes there is more to the disparity than meets the eye. "A girlfriend of mine who was with us took the picture. She [tried to book the same ride], too," Parks said. "She's a white woman. Her rate was lower than both [of us]. We're like, wow, typical — white woman gets a bonus rate," said Parks. "Then comes a white man. And, like, the Black woman is the lowest."

Joanne Parks & Adam Ferreira

Uber's official Twitter account responded to the tweet publicly: "Hi Adam, The surge prices applied are different (you can see "Fares are a lot higher "vs" Fares are higher"). Surge pricing changes in real-time and has nothing to do with the identity of the rider. Uber is committed to being an anti-racist company & has no space for discrimination," they said.

"Surge pricing" refers to an algorithm dynamically changing the price of a service or product depending on what the market demand looks like at the time.

"[They didn't] explain why that would be sent to two different screens at the exact same time," said Ferreira. The group of friends also deduced that Parks used Uber more often than Ferreira. Both have nearly identical passenger scores — Ferreira: 4.89, Parks: 4.87 — and neither had a promo code activated when they were booking their ride.

Hundreds shared their experience facing similar issues on the thread, with many calling Uber out for the response. One person shared a study conducted by George Washington University in 2020, showing evidence of social bias in the algorithms of ride-sharing apps.

"I am a woman of colour. I know my phone knows that from my searches, and I understand how algorithms work," Parks said. "You understand their surges in the morning and evening, but it was 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon. You're standing beside someone, and you're legit going in the same place. And to see that, it's like, wow, yeah, no, you would never know." According to Parks, she messaged Uber on Instagram at 9:55 a.m. Monday morning, and had not received a reply by the time this story went to press.

The group decided to take two taxicabs to their destination instead. "100% we'll never use Uber again," Parks said. "I'll definitely stick to cabs."

Narcity reached out to Uber for comment and was sent their public reply to Ferreira on Twitter, along with a link to their surge pricing information.