Pros and cons of Uber and Lyft fingerprint checks in NYC

Friday, December 30, 2016
Chris Woodward (

car dealership lotWith the coming of the New Year, fingerprint background checks could be required for Uber and Lyft in upstate New York, where arguments for and against the idea have been voiced.

Already operating in New York City, Uber and Lyft currently comply with fingerprint background checks, but Jared Meyer of the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) insists that there is a reason for that.

"New York City is such a large market, and Uber launched there as a black car service first," informed Meyer, who authored of Uber-positive: Why Americans Love the Sharing Economy. "The worry now is that all these other cities will follow New York's lead, and hope that the companies will go through with their ridiculous fingerprinting plans – where what we've seen from the companies is that they won't do that … they'll put out like they did in Austin or like they threatened to do in Maryland last week."

Meyer argues that fingerprint background checks do not work, and were never meant to be a job-screening tool. He would rather see cities and states allow Uber and Lyft to stick with their name-based background check for people wanting to be drivers.

"Fingerprint background checks aren't any more effective than name-based background checks," the government watchdog insisted. "If anything, they're more dangerous because they don't flag things like DUIs or reckless driving – which obviously ride-sharing companies want to know about. And also, a substantial portion of applicants would have been turned down for work – even if they were not convicted of a crime, because fingerprint databases aren't kept up to date by law enforcement."

In essence, if someone was arrested but never charged, Meyer asserts that they could still get denied a work opportunity – even though they were never found guilty of anything.

Advocacy for background checks

Dave Sutton, who serves as the spokesperson for Who's Driving You? – an initiative of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA) – favors fingerprint background checks.

"Our website keeps track of all the news reports of passengers who have been sexually and physically assaulted by Uber and Lyft drivers," Sutton shared. "If Uber and Lyft drivers would undergo fingerprint-based, police-conducted background checks – and the police could look at their full criminal histories – it would reduce passengers being harmed."

Sutton also claims that Uber and Lyft are bluffing when they say they will leave a state – in the case of New York – or not expand.

"This is something they do all the time," the TLPA spokesperson assured.

Recent efforts to get fingerprint background checks in Maryland were unsuccessful, but some are questioning whether this will sway legislators in New York.

"If they're paying attention, it should have an influence," Meyer contends.

"Fingerprint background checks didn't pass in Maryland," Sutton conceded. "But Maryland took a number of steps to tighten up the background check requirements, and a lot of states are tightening up background checks over and above what Uber and Lyft would like to do."

OneNewsNow questioned Sutton whether connections to taxicabs might have anything to do with his concerns about Uber and Lyft.

"Our public safety efforts have been designed to educate lawmakers and consumers to say, ‘Wait a minute, when they screen these drivers, they're not using proper screening methods and now we're seeing a lot of people hurt,’" Sutton responded. "That said, Uber and Lyft provide identical service to a taxicab, but they operate under completely different rules, and when anybody says, ‘Gee, you're being unfair; it's very unfair now because we have two sets of rules for an identical service.’"

It was also considered whether Meyer was just being Uber positive in his take over the issue, to which he replied:

"My interest in Uber comes from the value that they show for how technological innovation can create work opportunities for those that need them the most and expand options for more consumers," Meyer explained. "Neither me – nor my employer, the Foundation for Government Accountability – gets any money from Uber or Lyft … I just have an interest in the companies' business models."

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