Uber, Lyft Test-Drive Fingerprint Background Check Waiver

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By Jon Steingart

Uber and Lyft are threatening to end operations in Maryland if the state doesn’t grant their request for a waiver from a fingerprint background check law passed in 2015 (In the Matter of the Petitions of Raiser, LLC and Lyft, Inc. for Waiver of Public Utils. Art. Section 10-104(b), Md. Public Service Comm’n, No. 9425, application for waiver 9/15/16).

The law’s fingerprint waiver process is unique, state Sen. Bill Ferguson (D) said. There’s no similar provision in any of the dozens of ride-hailing rules enacted by states and local jurisdictions in recent years, the lead sponsor of the measure told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 20. “It was the critical compromise that allowed us to pass this pretty robust bill,” he said.

The state Public Service Commission may grant a waiver if a company can show it uses a background check process that’s “as comprehensive and accurate” as a fingerprint-based criminal history and driving record probe. A commission spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 20 that a ruling is expected on or before Dec. 22 on the waiver applications by Lyft Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc., which operates in Maryland through its subsidiary, Raiser LLC.

Previous Promises in Austin

This isn’t the first time Uber and Lyft have threatened to end local operations because of a fingerprinting requirement. In May, the companies followed through on a promise after voters in Austin, Texas, declined to overturn a city council-passed fingerprint ordinance.

The companies contended in their briefs concerning the Maryland measure that their processes work better than comparing a driver’s fingerprints to a criminal record database. Uber’s background check vendor, Checkr, and Lyft’s company, Sterling, use names, Social Security numbers and other identifiers to probe a variety of sources.

Fingerprint searches in criminal record and driving history databases have been shown to have gaps in coverage, Uber and Lyft told the commission. Their multi-pronged approach ensures their searches cast a wide net, they said. Uber and Lyft declined to speak on the record for this story.

Onboarding Time Is a Factor

“Uber and Lyft’s whole argument really boils down to the fact they rely on being able to onboard drivers quickly,” said Harry Campbell. He drives for both companies in Los Angeles and runs a blog called The Rideshare Guy.

The companies oppose processes that slow down onboarding for new drivers, Campbell told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 20. “They have a big problem with being able to retain drivers,” as half quit within the first year, he said.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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