Drivers of school buses, limousines and taxis are closely regulated in California and must undergo background checks including fingerprint checks. But drivers of Uber and Lyft? Not so much. They’re going to get a pass on those fingerprint checks, considered the most secure method of ensuring safety. Why? It’s not exactly clear. But that’s the decision that the state Public Utilities Commission handed down on Thursday. On a 5-0 vote, the state PUC ignored arguments that Uber and Lyft drivers should be subject to the same screening required of cab and limousine drivers. According to news reports, the PUC apparently bought the argument that fingerprint checks are costly and time-consuming and, as Commissioner Liane Randolph said, “the costs outweigh the benefits.”
If so, why are these other companies held to stiffer and more costly regulations? One can argue that, for safety reasons, drivers who may transport a single child should be held to the same standards, if not higher, as those who transport a group of adults. Uber and Lyft have private contractors do biographic background checks, which the companies claim are just as effective as the traditional checks.
Our guess is that the ride-hailing companies, both based in San Francisco, benefited from a little home court advantage, given how few regional political leaders seem to be willing to stand up to the political pressure of these burgeoning high tech businesses. It also may be that Bay Area officials have seen what happens when cities and states try to push background checks on the companies. In both Maryland and Austin, Texas, Uber and Lyft cut off service until minds were changed.
It’s possible that if and when someone is assaulted by a driver with an unchecked criminal history that he or she will be encouraged when state officials explain that they considered requiring fingerprint checks but decided that the costs “outweigh the benefits.” It’s possible. But we doubt it. Thumbs down.