Uber is delivering convenience store goods in D.C. — but only to wealthy neighborhoods

Uber, which announced Tuesday that it has hired former Obama adviser David Plouffe as senior vice president for policy and strategy, is experimenting with delivering common convenience store items to select customers through a new pilot project in Washington, D.C. But, so far, the taxi service is only delivering to Washington's wealthiest and least diverse areas.

The program, dubbed "Corner Store," will deliver more than 100 items from diapers to toothpaste with no delivery fee. But only two "delivery zones" are available -- one covering a large swath of the Northwest D.C., and the other largely encompassing the Capitol Hill area.


(Uber)

As Washington residents are likely aware, the areas within those delivery zones tend to be more affluent than the rest of the city -- and Census Bureau data shows it.


Median income in Washington D.C., inflation adjusted to 2012 from the American Community Survey. (Census.gov)

The darker the green, the higher the median income. And with the exception of a few of the wealthy areas along the D.C.-Maryland border, Uber's delivery zone largely includes the wealthy parts of the region (in dark green) and excludes those outside of it (light green).

Uber declined to comment on how it chose the initial delivery zones. But the choices makes sense from a business perspective: Wealthier consumers are probably more likely to be Uber customers already and more likely to be comfortable paying the slightly higher prices the company is charging for goods in exchange for the convenience of having them dropped off at their door.

Plus, there are likely other factors at play, including logistics: The service is focused on delivering items quickly, and as a pilot project that limits how far from a central hub the drivers will be able to travel. And it's possible it will expand to the rest of the city in the future if the program is a success.

In fact, Uber D.C.'s general manager Zuhairah Washington, said in an e-mailed statement that the company has "already seen such a great response" to the program that it will be expanding it to "much broader areas" of the city in the next few weeks.

But the initial delivery areas still paint a stark picture of how economic lines continue to divide Washington. And unfortunately, economic lines in D.C. also generally translate to racial lines. In the Census Bureau map below, neighborhoods with a higher proportion of white residents are in dark green.


Percent of residents who are white according to the American Community Survey. (Census.gov)

It has similar overlap with the Uber Corner Store delivery map as the income map. So by delivering to only the more economically successful areas, Uber is also limiting its delivery to neighborhoods with higher percentages of white residents -- if unintentionally.

According to Google Maps the less affluent and more racially diverse areas might benefit from a service like Uber's Corner Store. Some areas outside the program's initial delivery area  tend to have fewer convenience stores than those within it.


Convenience store locations in DC. (Google Maps)
Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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