CATONSVILLE, Md. — Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft changed the way people travel over the last decade. Now, a new study is reporting a major safety upside to using these services as well. A team of international researchers say such apps provide extra protection for potential victims of sexual assault. This is especially true for residents of areas with inadequate public transit services or circumstances that are more prone to sex-related offenses and crimes.
More specifically, study authors conclude a company’s entry into a new city generally contributes to a 6.3 percent drop in reported rapes.
“Even a 1% increase in Uber pickups in a neighborhood translates to a more than 3% decrease in the likelihood of sexual assaults,” says Jiyong Park of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in a media release.
Researchers from Temple University, the National Cancer Center of Korea, and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology also collaborated on this study.
Door-to-door service may reduce opportunities for crime
Ride-sharing services, and the “gig economy” in general has been under heavy scrutiny in recent years. However, this research explores an important yet understudied aspect of the equation. This is the first time researchers have produced empirical evidence showing that ride sharing apps cut down on sexual assaults.
“Ridesharing can reduce a passenger’s risk of being a target of sexual assault by providing a more reliable and timely transportation option for traveling to a safer place,” Park explains. “Moreover, ridesharing contributes to a more significant reduction in the likelihood of rape occurrences in neighborhoods with limited transportation accessibility, such as the city’s outskirts and neighborhoods where a higher percentage of the population is non-Caucasian.”
The data also shows that ride sharing apps are most effective at curbing sexual assaults in “riskier” circumstances. For example, grabbing an Uber outside of a bar or club on a Saturday night instead of walking a few blocks to the nearest bus stop.
“Despite the common misconception due to popular media stories, our work proves that digital platforms can be leveraged to solve societal challenges by matching supply and demand closely for relevant services, which calls for spatiotemporal investigations of granular-level data in designing platform businesses and devising policy instruments,” Park concludes.
The study appears in the journal Information Systems Research.