Almost 60 years after the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott triggered by black civil rights activist Rosa Parks, a new IZA discussion paper by Paul Frijters and Redzo Mujcic investigates whether there is still racial discrimination in buses by conducting a natural field experiment in Queensland, Australia. The authors sent trained testers who differed in ethnic appearance to bus stops asking the driver for a free ride on the basis that their bus pass was faulty (which it was). In total, they obtained 1,552 observations of testers either allowed a free ride or not, in each case recording the characteristics of the bus driver, the tester, and the circumstances. The paper shows strong evidence of discrimination against black-skinned individuals.
White testers were accepted during 72% of the interactions versus only 36% for black testers. Indian testers were let on 51% of the time and Asian testers (mainly Chinese) were let on 73% of the time. Favors were more likely to be granted when the bus driver and tester were of the same ethnicity, and when there were fewer people in the bus. Patriotic appearance matters in that testers wearing army uniforms were accepted at a rate of 97% if they were white and 77% if they were black. Status appearance also mattered in that black passengers in business attire were just as likely to be favored as casually dressed white testers. When bus drivers were confronted with hypothetical situation of granting a free ride using photos taken of the real testers, 86% responded they would let on black passengers, more than double the actual number accepted, indicating dishonest self-reporting on this topic.