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Can ride sharing reduce sexual crime? Bryan professor examines sharing economy benefits

Dr. Jiyong Park has spent much of his career researching the societal impact of information technology beyond the economy. His latest paper, which will appear in Information Systems Research, takes a close look at how ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft play a role in keeping people safe in large metropolitan areas.

“Information technology has penetrated almost every aspect of our lives, so in my research, I have focused on how we can use those technologies to solve social problems,” said Park, assistant professor in the Bryan School’s Department of Information Systems and Supply Chain Management.

Ride Sharing Uber Lyft
In this latest paper, Park investigated the relationship between ride-sharing and sexual assault.

In this latest paper, Park investigated the relationship between ride-sharing and sexual assault. While controversial, it has been an unanswered topic in public debates on the sharing economy and ride-sharing.

“There are no perfect means to totally eliminate the risk of crimes but by leveraging the technologies, I believe that part of the risk can be mitigated to a certain extent,” said Park. “This paper argues ride-sharing can be effective in reducing sexual crime occurrences, especially.”

Park’s paper takes a look at the role of ride-sharing through the lens of routine activity theory, taking into consideration its ability to expand transportation options across a city.

“We argue that ride-sharing platforms can deter crime occurrences due to lack of transportation by providing a more reliable and timely transportation option for traveling to a safer place,” Park said.

Using data from 377 urbanized areas in the United States from 2005 to 2017, the study finds the entry of Uber services into a city is significantly associated with a 6.3 percent reduction in the number of rape incidents.

The paper further analyzed big data on ride-sharing pickups and crime occurrences in New York City. According to the paper, ride-sharing is more effective in preventing sexual crimes in suburban areas and neighborhoods around bars on weekend nights.

“We argued that those neighborhoods with limited transportation accessibility could benefit from ride-sharing,” said Park.

Cities like Washington, D.C., and universities like the University of South Carolina are already partnering with ride-sharing companies to promote safe ride programs, Park said. He believes cities and organizations can leverage the findings from this study to design impactful measures to prevent crime.

“Many cities do not have extensive public transportation infrastructure enough to provide people with accessible and reliable means of transportation, compared to large metropolitan cities,” said Park. “But if we leverage ride-sharing which is a market-driven innovation, we can expand the transportation options across the city more effectively.”

Park admits most technologies may have upsides and downsides. He wouldn’t say ride-sharing only has upsides, but he argues that it is important to take a comprehensive and balanced view of the potential benefits and risks of technologies and IT-enabled business models such as ride-sharing.

His next project relates to the role of ride-sharing in non-emergency medical care transportations.

“Many people have failed to receive relevant medical care in the U.S. because of transportation barriers,” said Park. “Especially seniors.”

Park hopes his research will benefit policymakers as information technology continues to play a larger role in modern society.