State Screening for Ride-Share Catches More Drivers

By Seth Daniel

Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Everett’s state delegation are applauding the results of expanded state criminal background checks for ride-sharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, with initial results showing a significant amount of drivers should not be behind the wheel.

After the new state background check went into effect this January, the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU) released its first statistics from those checks – which revealed that more than 10 percent of the drivers who applied were not fit.

Many of those same drivers for ride-sharing companies had already passed background checks by the companies.

Out of 90,105 applications, some 10,080 were denied by ride share companies under the new law. However, the state DPU rejected more than 8,000 of the drivers that the companies had cleared within their process.

Of those rejected, more 1,600 were due to having suspended licenses. However, 51 were rejected for being sex offenders and 1,559 were rejected for having violent crimes on their records.

Mayor Carlo DeMaria and State Sen. Sal DiDomenico have been critical of the companies over the past year after two criminal incidents unfolded in Everett via Uber drivers.

“This past fall there were two very disturbing criminal incidents in Everett involving out-of-town Uber drivers,” said the mayor. “These statistics show clearly that passengers were potentially at risk before regulations took effect. I met with the State Department of Public Utility’s commissioners and requested that DPU immediately implement state background checks that were included in a new ride share law.”

DiDomenico had been critical of the companies for several years, and last summer – before the incidents called for greater protections than the expanded law even offered.

He said this week he isn’t surprised and that he still advocates for extended measures like fingerprinting – which isn’t performed as part of the check on ride-share drivers, but is performed on regular taxi drivers. DeMaria is also in agreement with fingerprinting ride-share drivers as well.

“Obviously I have been a vocal supporter of the taxi industry and the regulations they have to follow that Uber doesn’t,” he said This has been a big issue of mine for many, many years. I can’t say I’m surprised by the results. It does show the new law is working in identifying people who should be driving. There are areas where it certainly could still be strengthened. You want to make sure they person behind the wheel is credible…Everett’s been affected. We have seen firsthand what happened in Everett when Uber drivers get behind the wheel that shouldn’t be there.”

State Rep. Joe McGonagle told the Independent he was glad to see that DPU was able to screen drivers, but he said things need to go on a case-by-case basis. He said many people shouldn’t be barred from driving if they have served their time and are reformed.

DiDomenico agreed with that as well.

“I am very glad to see we are now able to find these drivers who shouldn’t be on the road,” said McGonagle. “We also need to make sure we aren’t putting up barriers for people who have served their time and have something in their distant past. They just want to work and they shouldn’t be barred because of something a long time ago. We need to keep that in mind too.”

The statistics are in great need of interpretation, however, as the background check is a two-step process. The first step involves applications, and ride-share companies perform a multi-state commercial criminal and driving background check. Additionally, they will conduct a check of the US Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public website. Ride-share companies must then disqualify any driver based on the suitability standard set forth in a Memorandum of Understanding with the state. If a driver passes the company’s check, their name will be forwarded to the DPU.

In the statistics cited above, within this first process, 10,080 drivers were rejected by ride-share companies out of more than 90,000 that applied.

In the second phase, the DPU checks the driver’s information through the Massachusetts CORI and SORI systems, Registry of Motor Vehicles’ driving record, and Warrant Management System. The DPU’s background check includes a lifetime look back for violent felonies, serious driving offenses, and sex abuse convictions. In addition, a “catch all” provision allows ride-share companies and the DPU to prevent a driver from providing services if the background information demonstrates a risk to public safety.

Within the second phase of the process performed by the DPU, since January, a total of 8,206 drivers were denied by the DPU after having been okayed by ride-share companies. A total of 62,583 were approved.

Of those rejected in the first phase, the reasons included:

  • License Suspension – 1,640
  • Driver Licensed less than one/three years – 1,580
  • Open Court Cases – 1,250
  • Multiple Serious Driving Offenses – 1,058
  • Violent Crimes – 958
  • Violent Crimes II – 601
  • Inactive License – 562
  • Sex, Abuse, and Exploitation – 352
  • Multiple Violations of Traffic Laws – 347
  • Felony Fraud – 342
  • Felony Convictions – 334
  • Open/Unresolved Driving Infractions – 331
  • Reckless Operation – 307
  • DPU Discretion – 276
  • OUI – 152
  • Felony Robbery -149
  • Open Warrants – 138
  • Habitual Traffic Offender – 78
  • Sex Offender – 51

“Public safety is a top priority for this administration and we are pleased to have completed this first round of in depth background checks a year ahead of schedule,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Thanks to the collaboration between this administration and transportation network companies, Massachusetts has set a national standard for driver safety and we look forward to future partnerships with Uber, Lyft and others to grow this innovative industry and support more jobs and economic opportunities for all.”

The DPU must codify official regulations by November 2017. This formal rulemaking process has already begun and a public hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 23. The public process for the rulemaking is expected to last nine months and the public will be encouraged to offer comments in writing or in person.

In September, Mayor DeMaria met with company officials at Uber and separately with Commissioners of the DPU, who regulate transportation network companies, to advocate for enhanced background screening of Uber drivers. Mayor DeMaria arranged for these meetings following the arrest of two Uber drivers for sexual assault in Everett last year.

The meetings took place on September 6 and 7 and followed Mayor DeMaria’s call for the fingerprinting of drivers for transportation network companies and the expedited implementation of state regulations required under a new law to improve background checks across the industry. Mayor DeMaria also wrote a letter to Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, requesting a discussion of ways that the city could partner with Uber to use its resources to better protect public safety.

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