Chicago City Council Considers FBI Background Checks for Uber, Lyft

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, the City Council is considering an ordinance that would require ride-hailing companies, such as Uber, to impose more rigorous background checks on driver candidates.

Taxi drivers undergo more intense training and screening than ride-hailing drivers do.  In fact, cabbies are subject to FBI-backed scrutiny of their records.  Unfortunately, these fingerprint checks  cost a considerable sum and take more than three months to complete.  Certainly, despite the background checks, there have still been cab drivers who have attacked their passengers.  According to Uber, cabbies in Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and San Diego  who applied to drive for Uber  "on the side" failed the ride-sharing company's background check.

Drivers for Uber and similar companies, on the other hand, undergo the same type of background check that most businesses require of potential new hires.  It is faster and cheaper than the more rigorous check conducted by cab companies. Conventional background reviews consult a variety of sources, such as court records and related databases.  Ride-sharing companies also look closely at driving records, which aren't included in fingerprint checks through the FBI.  Among driver candidates who aren't accepted by Uber, 97% are turned away because of a poor driving record.

Uber doesn't support the proposed ordinance.  They are just as concerned as any other entity about providing a safe experience for their customers.  After all,  continued success of their business hinges on maintaining a good reputation.

Ride-sharing companies point out that the cost and wait time associated with the background checks would likely discourage many drivers from signing up. That would mean fewer cars on the road, and longer wait times for customers.  This would prove especially detrimental in neighborhoods that are not well-served by taxi companies.

Furthermore, the more rigorous background checks are designed to assist in criminal investigations, not in screening employees.

The city cites concerns about safety, pointing to cases of Uber drivers attacking passengers.  Yet there is no documented evidence that riding with companies like Lyft and Uber is more dangerous than getting from one place to another via conventional cab.

Which brings me to my point:  The government can't reasonably foresee and protect against every possible danger out there.  People who sign up as ride-sharing drivers or look for some other employment usually have to pass background checks.  People who pass background checks usually have no prior criminal record or perhaps have committed very minor offenses.  Every first-time offender has no prior history of criminal activity.  All the background checks in the world, no mater how intense, can't guarantee that people won't act out in the future.. I think people are intelligent enough to weigh the potential risks with the benefits of using a particular service.

And what of the cases where ride-sharing drivers have been attacked by passengers?  Should we fingerprint all potential passengers before they hail a cab or open their Lyft app?

Or is there an underlying agenda to protect the interests of the cab companies?  While I don't wish for them to lose their businesses, supply and demand and customer choice have to be the deciding factors here in whether any of these companies- ride-hailing or taxi- stay afloat.

Customers consistently rate their experience with ride-hailing services more highly than conventional cabs.  The price and convenience are what customers are looking for, especially in neighborhoods with a shortage of cab availability.

To the City Council:  If it isn't broken, don't try to fix it.  I think ride-hailing companies are motivated to keep background checks as they are for the right reasons, not out of greed or because they don't care about customers' safety, but because they want to maintain a thriving business model that is also in the best interests of the customer.  If standard background checks are good enough for regular employees, shouldn't they also be good enough for Uber and Lyft drivers?


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