Uber, Lyft Can Bypass Driver Fingerprinting in California

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By Jon Steingart

Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing companies operating in California can continue using driver background checks that don’t call for fingerprinting, a state regulator ruled.

The California Public Utilities Commission has taken a closer look at ride-hailing company procedures as it carries out state laws calling for more regulation of the industry. After ride-hailing became regulated in 2014, the commission felt that background checks and other areas needed more scrutiny, Christopher Chow, a commission spokesman, told Bloomberg Law Nov. 13.

Fingerprint-based background checks are a point of contention for the companies. In some jurisdictions, they’ve followed through on pledges to end operations rather than comply with requirements they consider incompatible with their business model. For example, they exited Austin, Texas, in May 2016 rather than comply with the city’s fingerprint-based background check rules. They resumed business there on Memorial Day in 2017, the day the governor signed a statewide law that voided local ride-hailing regulations.

Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc., and other ride-hailing companies conduct background checks based on name, Social Security number, and other identifiers. The commission found in its Nov. 9 decision that requiring fingerprint-based background checks wouldn’t add “a demonstratively greater level of safety” beyond what their methods, which it said are “compliant” with the standards required by the legislature.

Fingerprinting Not Only Route, Agency Says

“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,” the commission said in its decision ( Order Instituting Rulemaking on Regs. Relating to Passenger Carriers, Ridesharing, and New Online-Enabled Transp. Svcs. , Cal. P.U.C., No. R1212011, 11/9/17 ). It cited a December 2016 conclusion by Maryland’s ride-hailing regulator that Uber and Lyft’s background check processes satisfied the state’s requirements without a need for fingerprints.

“The safety and security of our riders and drivers is our top priority,” Lyft said in a statement emailed to Bloomberg Law Nov. 10. The commission’s “decision recognizes the strength and effectiveness of our current background check process.”

Uber also welcomed the decision. “We appreciate the Commission’s thoughtful review of this important issue. We are encouraged by their decision which promotes both public safety and economic opportunity for California drivers,” it said in a statement emailed to Bloomberg Law Nov. 10.

The companies don’t always end operations rather than comply with a fingerprint requirement. They operate in New York City, which requires fingerprint-based background checks. Uber submitted to Houston’s fingerprint requirement before it was voided by state law.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the decision is available at http://src.bna.com/t9O.

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