Uber, Lyft need to justify fighting fingerprinting
Uber and Lyft are enjoying great success in the Bay State, but public perception of safety issues might radically change that reality. As the Herald’s Mary Markos reports, high-profile criminal activity by ride-share drivers has spurred a Massachusetts lawmaker into action, filing legislation that would require all transportation network companies to submit fingerprints to be checked in the state and national criminal history databases.
People do worry about their safety in ride-hailing services. Just this week, a former Uber driver was accused of raping a passenger in his car and ordered held on $100,000 bail in Boston Municipal Court. Mayanja Daudah, 37, of Waltham is being charged with two counts of rape.
Uber and Lyft, though, have been adamantly against taking fingerprints and even pulled their operations from Austin, Texas, when the city required fingerprint scans for background checks. Both companies point to their vetting processes as being reliable and thorough, but the core reason they reject fingerprinting comes from a very different place.
In 2016, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick shed some light on his no-fingerprint policy, which is more about criminal justice than anything else. Using alternative background checks, Uber offers a unique opportunity for those who have been arrested to gain employment. It is a social justice initiative that is not baseless.
“Imagine a country where people might get arrested who shouldn’t get arrested,” Kalanick said. “Imagine if that country were the U.S. 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.”
Among progressives in Massachusetts and Democrats on Beacon Hill, that argument is bound to hold water. In 2019, the state and the entire country have entered a new era of bipartisan embrace of aspects of criminal justice reform. Elected leaders from Massachusetts like Congressman Ayanna Pressley and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins made it a central part of their campaigns.
Ride Safe Massachusetts, a coalition of chauffeured car and taxi companies, supports fingerprinting for all transportation network companies. Obviously limos and taxis are competing with Lyft and Uber and they’d obviously welcome an exodus of the ride-hailing companies as was witnessed in Texas.
An Uber spokesperson countered that the company’s screening process is “robust,” citing the third-party provider that checks driving and criminal records through local, state and national databases for any “disqualifying offenses.” The background checks are re-run every six months.
“Safety is Lyft’s top priority,” a statement from the company to the Herald reads. “Which is why we have worked hard to design policies and features that protect both drivers and passengers. In Massachusetts, drivers undergo a rigorous two-tiered background check process, including a state-run check, before driving on the platform. As always, we’re open to discussions with policymakers on issues that impact our industry.”
However, as The Associated Press reported January, more than 15 percent of potential ride-hail drivers last year — over 30,000 applicants — were rejected for failing a state criminal screening. According to state regulators, they had passed checks by Uber and Lyft.
Uber and Lyft must do something to supplement their current screening methods. Maybe that is a fingerprint accommodation that would exclude certain nonviolent crimes. We are sure the innovative minds at those companies can come up with a process that will assuage fears and protect customers.