Rideshare Companies Face Tighter Screening Rules in Many States

San Francisco Public Press
 — Apr 27 2015 - 10:06am

Crashes, assaults and other incidents involving drivers for Uber, Lyft and Sidecar — all based in San Francisco — have been well publicized. One rider accused his driver of groping and choking him.

It was enough to spur eight members of Congress to write a letter to those companies’ executives in March, demanding they beef up their screening.

Many states have already imposed such regulations to address public safety, leaving California behind. Massachusetts and Arizona require the companies to perform background checks on new drivers. A bill awaiting the governor’s signature in Maryland would compel the companies to fingerprint drivers if they cannot prove their screening is already as thorough, the Daily Caller reported. In Texas, a proposed law would allow cities to mandate fingerprint checks.

Cornelio Greer, now a driver for Lyft, said the application process contrasted starkly with the two weeks of tests and interviews he had undergone before his first shift for DeSoto Cab Company in San Francisco. Within days of applying to Lyft online, he had a pink mustache for his car and was driving for the company, Central City Extra reported.

“It was really nonchalant,” Greer said.

Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, a San Fernando Valley Democrat, recently proposed a law that would require rideshare companies in California to adopt many of the same screening methods as taxi companies. One is a DMV service that notifies employers when their drivers are convicted of crimes after being hired. Another is alcohol and drug screening for new and current drivers.

A former version of the law would have compelled those companies to scan drivers’ fingerprints for background checks through the federal Department of Justice’s private database, denying employment to those who had committed various types of felonies within the previous seven years. But Nazarian removed that aspect of the bill after it received inadequate support from legislators. “We didn’t have the votes,” said Dan Savage, Nazarian’s chief of staff.

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar now use only publicly available documents for their background checks, which the companies argue has the advantage of identifying pending charges and appeals, the Los Angeles Times reported. An Uber spokesperson told the New York Times that an ongoing external audit by consulting firm Giuliani Partners has found its method superior to traditional background checks.

The latest version of Nazarian’s bill will go before the state assembly within the next two weeks, Savage said.

Note: Cornelio Greer has worked for the San Francisco Public Press.

Correction 4/29/2015: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that California Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian’s proposed law would force rideshare companies to scan drivers’ fingerprints for use in background checks. When the article was published, the provision had been removed from the bill.