California regulators won’t require ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to get fingerprinted as part of their background checks to operate in the Golden State. Taxi drivers, however, must be fingerprinted in California.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates the ride-hailing industry, said that “after much consideration and debate,” criminal background checks on drivers that don’t include fingerprint checks are all that will be required, and those checks must be done by an accredited company and performed annually.
The CPUC, however, said Wednesday that it won’t require biometric screening because “doing so would not add a greater level of safety.” The agency is expected to approve the plan on November 9.
“Although we recognize the public’s familiarity with fingerprinting, we do not see that a demonstratively greater level of safety would be added over and above the current background-check protocols,” Commissioner Liane Randolph said.
The taxi industry has pushed for the fingerprinting of ride-hailing service drivers to put them in line with cab drivers, but the ride-hailing service lobby won over the commission.
“Disappointed the CPUC is neglecting to protect riders by requiring the safest form of driver screening for Uber and Lyft,” said Dave Sutton of the taxi-funded campaign “Who’s Driving You?” He told the Mercury News that “California lawmakers and consumers should remain aware there’s a time-tested and superior form of background check: fingerprinting.”
Fingerprinting has been a big deal when it comes to ride-hailing services. Uber and Lyft, for example, quit servicing Austin, Texas, last year because of a fingerprinting requirement. The services returned this spring after state lawmakers changed the law.
No state requires ride-hailing drivers to be fingerprinted. But a smattering of cities, including New York City, require them. The companies claim the requirement discourages new drivers from applying, that fingerprinting is unreliable, and that background checks should suffice.
Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said last year that people should be able to get a job despite being arrested.
“Imagine a country where people might get arrested who shouldn’t get arrested. Imagine if that country were the US,” he said. “We have systems in place where if you’re arrested, you literally can’t get work, even if you’re found to be innocent. And it’s unjust.”
Fingerprint checks are scanned into an FBI database that chronicles a person’s entire life. Uber and Lyft’s background checks search about seven years back. They query courthouses in the areas where prospective drivers live. The National Sex Offender site is also searched. A new California law demands that the ride-hailing companies perform a lifetime background check for major felonies.
“We appreciate the Commission’s thoughtful review of this important issue,” Uber said in a statement. “We are encouraged by their proposed decision which promotes both public safety and economic opportunity.”
According to the Mercury News, the CPUC said fingerprinting wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be:
For one thing, people who submit fingerprints via the popular Live Scan service aren’t required to show photo ID, the commission wrote. And criminal records, even those attached to a fingerprint, are only as accurate and up-to-date as the information provided by local courts and law enforcement agencies. When there are errors in those records, requiring a fingerprint can actually exacerbate those resulting delays, the commission wrote.
For the general public, though, it appears the answer wasn’t so clear-cut. The commission has received 1,817 comments on the issue since June 2016—48 percent of respondents were in favor of fingerprint background checks, and 49 percent were opposed. About 2 percent said “it depends.”
Lyft said in a statement that the CPUC’s move was “a recognition of Lyft’s strong background check process which prioritizes public safety without limiting innovation or economic opportunity.”
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