April 14, 2017  

This week the news arrived that Massachusetts and Maryland have rejected thousands of already approved Uber and Lyft drivers.

51 applications from sex offenders. That’s how many Massachusetts found driving for Uber and Lyft.  Here are the other reasons applications were rejected:

  • 352 for criminal-history incidents related to “sex, abuse, and exploitation,”
  • 958 for violent crimes,
  • 152 for operating under the influence.

In a follow-up Boston Globe article on how other states may be considering more stringent background checks, Lyft spokesman, Adrian Durbin made this point: “It would be a mistake to prevent good and qualified drivers around the country from earning needed income as a result of one state’s rule-making.”

We wholeheartedly disagree.

Massachusetts recent findings offer incontrovertible, bulletproof data that law enforcement and governments should be background-checking Uber and Lyft drivers. The sampling was enormous: 70,789 applications. The reviewer—the state of Massachusetts—is unassailable.

In fact, we believe Massachusetts would have found more bad apples had law enforcement been able to use the gold standard of criminal background checks: fingerprints.

It would be the most reasonable move in the world for other states and cities to emulate Massachusetts supplemental background checks of Uber and Lyft drivers. And to further bolster the effectiveness of government checks by using fingerprinting.

Uber loves to hide data, produce questionable data, and diminish the value of data which is critical of its processes. But Uber and Lyft will be hard-pressed to deny the value of Massachusetts’ findings.

Besides, it’s not just one state.

Maryland’s supplemental background checks have rejected 2,850 applications for criminal offenses or driving-related issues.


If you multiply Massachusetts’ and Maryland’s rejected applications by the number of states allowing Uber and Lyft to conduct their own background checks, it begins to explain why our site lists 217 reported sexual assaults and harassments against Uber and Lyft drivers.



Uber and Lyft’s arguments against fingerprinting make little sense


By Editorial Board January 2

MANY OF the nation’s biggest cities have tried to require ride-booking services such as Uber and Lyft to establish fingerprint background checks for their drivers, in the interest of public safety, only to discover that the companies, which hate the idea, have them over a barrel. The pressure on local leaders can be intense: Don’t they want their town to remain in (or join) the 21st century? And what about the thousands of people who make ends meet as part-time drivers in the gig economy — don’t they deserve the extra income?

In the face of threats by Uber and Lyft to leave or stay out of a city, a county or even an entire state, many public officials have buckled, much as Maryland’s Public Service Commission did last month in dropping its effort to force fingerprint background checks. (It did beef up rules for biographic background checks.)

The fact is that fingerprinting is widely required for bus, taxi and limousine drivers; it is generally regarded by law enforcement as the gold standard of background checks. Given reports nationally that some gig drivers have assaulted passengers, fingerprinting makes sense as an added measure to protect the public.

Uber and Lyft complain that fingerprinting is unfair, onerous, racially tilted and unreliable. Those arguments are largely specious. For one thing, both firms submit to the requirement in New York City, and Uber also does so in Houston. In other words, if the city (and profit potential) is big enough, the firms suck it up and bear the burden. And if the city isn’t big enough, the firms have shown themselves willing to walk, as they did when voters in Austinpassed a ballot measure requiring fingerprint background checks this past spring.

The firms say they worry fingerprinting is a hassle that may discourage the flow of new drivers — about a half-million have already signed up across the country. In fact, the burden is minimal: In Houston, prospective Uber drivers pay about $40 to be fingerprinted, a process that takes about 10 minutes.

As for the argument that fingerprinting disadvantages black prospective drivers because they are disproportionately and sometimes erroneously represented in criminal databases — well, yes. Yet few dispute that fingerprinting provides the public with added protection when it comes to hiring bus drivers, teachers, security guards, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, nurses, government employees and many other prospective employees in sensitive occupations that involve interacting with the public.

The firms’ real reason for opposing fingerprinting may be that it (slightly) strengthens the argument that their drivers are employees and not, as Uber and Lyft insist, private contractors. As employees, they would be eligible to press for a range of benefits that would upend the firms’ labor costs and business models.

Uber and Lyft say their own biographic background checks, performed by private contractors, are just as efficient in weeding out applicants with criminal backgrounds. Not many law enforcement agencies buy that. Fingerprinting isn’t a foolproof tool for background checks, but neither are the biographic databases used by the ride-booking services now. The best way to protect the public is to insist on both.


'She was able to push him off:' Uber driver accused of indecent contact in Ross Township

Updated: 5:34 PM EST Nov 23, 2016

Police are investigating a woman's report that her Uber driver stopped mid-ride and made indecent contact and unwanted sexual advances Tuesday night.

The woman made the call when she arrived at her destination, the Barrel Junction bar on William Flinn Highway in Hampton Township.

Shaler Township police determined the incident happened in Ross Township, so they turned the investigation over.

"She was able to push him off, and he then continued with the ride and took her on her destination. She called 911 and reported this to us. We are currently investigating," Detective Brian Kohlhepp said. "We're working with Uber to try to get information on the ride, as well as the driver who completed the ride. Some of that information is obviously protected, so we have to get a search warrant in order to get that."

The driver has not been identified while the investigation continues.

Police issued these reminders about typical safety precautions that should be taken when using a ride service.

- Request the ride through an actual account, not on the street with a driver.

- Travel with friends.

- Photograph the license plate before you get in.

- Verify the car and driver is who is supposed to pick you up before you get in.

- Text or tell a friend that you are using a ride service, and share your location.

- The driver is not a trusted friend. Do not treat them as such, and be careful what information you share.

- Trust your instincts and do not get in the car if you do not feel safe.


Uber driver charged with attempted murder had an 'Extensive Criminal Record'

Yet he had no problem passing the background check

By Sage Lazzaro • 05/26/16 12:27pm

This isn’t looking good for Uber. (Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

It seems like an Uber driver is charged with a violent crime nearly every day. It’s not a stretch—just three days ago, we reported on a driver who was arrested for strangling a college student in a dorm parking lot. Now here we are again.

A 52-year-old Uber driver from Gaithersburg, Maryland has been charged with two counts of first degree attempted murder for trying to shoot police officers with a homemade gun. The driver, Jonathan Hemming, is also facing 17 additional assault, drug and weapons charges. According to WJLA, he has “an extensive criminal record” that includes weapons possession, arson, armed robbery, burglary, vehicle theft and more, yet Mr. Hemming had no problem passing the Uber background check.

The incident occurred last week when Montgomery County officers surrounded Mr. Hemming’s car to arrest him on a bench warrant for multiple drug charges. He allegedly resisted arrest and attempted, but failed, to fire at the heads of two detectives with one of the two weapons police say he had in the vehicle. After placing Mr. Hemming in handcuffs, officers also found a needle cap, a prescription vial, a syringe, rubber tie off straps, live shotgun shells, live handgun rounds, a pill bottle, a metal pill holder, a handcuff key, garden clippers and a pocket knife in his pants pockets. Although police say there were no Uber passengers in the car at the time, it was confirmed that was the vehicle he is assigned to drive for Uber.

When asked about Mr. Hemming at an unrelated Uber press conference, spokeswoman Meghan Joyce told ABC7, “I can say that we take this responsibility extraordinarily seriously.”

Again, this raises questions about the legitimacy of Uber’s background checks. Uber does not require its drivers to be fingerprinted, which officials say has led to the hiring of several people who have been convicted of violent crimes. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has said that a background check without fingerprints is “completely worthless.” And last month, Uber agreed to pay $10 million to settle allegations by California prosecutors that it misled passengers about the quality of its driver background checks.


Uber an Lyft leave Austin. Why do they oppose fingerprinting?

Uber and Lyft invested $8.6 million to overturn a city ordinance in Austin that requires fingerprint-based background checks for drivers, but they still lost. 

By Story Hinckley, Staff MAY 8, 2016

Uber and Lyft drivers will require fingerprinting, the city of Austin confirmed in a vote Saturday. 

As of February 1, 2017, all drivers employed by ride-hailing companies in the Texas capital must pass fingerprint-based background checks. Proposition 1, the ballot measure backed with millions from the companies to repeal this city ordinance, was rejected by a popular vote Saturday. 

“Uber, I think, decided they were going to make Austin an example to the nation,” David Butts, who led the anti-Prop. 1 campaign called "Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice," tells the Austin American-Statesman. “And Austin made Uber an example to the nation.”

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A 12 percent majority voted down Proposition 1, with 17 percent of all eligible voters turning out for the vote. Both companies threatened to leave the city of Austin if Prop. 1 failed, and so far they are both following through with their promises and ceasing operations in the city, beginning Monday.

Nobody wants them to leave and we’re not asking them to leave,” Councilmember Ann Kitchen told KUT News. “The voters have spoken and they want these requirements and I know that we can do that… I don’t know why they would leave. We held the election that they said they wanted.”

Saturday’s election marks the first time that a major US city has held a popular vote on stricter regulations for ride-hailing companies. And judging by the millions of dollars spent on the Prop 1 campaign, Uber and Lyft fear Austin’s regulation may send a message to Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta – cities that have contemplated similar laws. 

“Unfortunately, the rules passed by city council don’t allow true ride sharing to operate,” Lyft said in a statement. Lyft, now worth $5.5 billion, says they already require comprehensive safety measures, and that a fingerprinting requirement would make it more difficult for the company to employ part-time drivers. 

Requiring stricter background checks is actually a public safety concern, argued Uber, which is valued about $62.5 billion. Fingerprinting can slow down the influx of new drivers, and a robust ride-sharing fleet is necessary to cut down on road dangers such as drunk driving.

“We hope the city council will reconsider their ordinance so we can work together to make the streets of Austin a safer place for everyone,” Uber tells KXAN.

Ridesharing Works for Austin, the companies’ organization promoting Prop 1, spent $8.6 million, an amount previously unseen in Austin politics (the previous record of $1.2 million was set during Mayor Steven Adler’s 2014 mayoral campaign.) By comparison, "Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice," spent roughly $125,000.

It is clear that Uber and Lyft saw national implications with Austin’s local ordinance. 

Fingerprint-based background checks typically cost $40, so those $8.6 million campaign funds could have checked 215,000 drivers. Last year, Uber contracted with about 162,000 active drivers in the United States, while Lyft has more than 100,000. With just $2 million more, Uber and Lyft could have already funded fingerprint-based background checks for all of their drivers.    

“As I talked to voters at the polls and on the phones, many of them like Uber’s service and Lyft’s, they use it, but they drew the line at allowing them to write their own rules,” Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo tells KXAN. “And that’s really significant.”