Uber and Lyft have another date with Maryland regulators - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Nov. 16, 2016 12:52 pm

Uber and Lyft have another date with Maryland regulators

The ridesharing companies are looking to maintain their fingerprint-free background checks. In other markets, the issue has proven to be a dealbreaker.
An Uber ride waits in traffic.

An Uber ride waits in traffic.

(Photo by Flickr user Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, used under a Creative Commons license)

It’s been more than a year since Maryland passed legislation that effectively legalized Uber and Lyft in the state.

It ended two years of back-and-forth between the ridesharing companies and the state.

This week, however, Uber began organizing again. Similar to language used during those legislative negotiations, the company circulated a petition calling on folks to “Help Keep Uber in Maryland.” The call comes as the ridesharing companies are set to go before the Maryland Public Service Commission for a series of hearings beginning on Thursday, Nov. 17.

The reason goes back to one of the key sticking points in the negotiations that led up to the 2015 bill: fingerprinting checks on drivers.

Uber and Lyft fled Austin, Texas, citing the issue of fingerprinting.

After much debate, the 2015 law that created the regulatory framework for ridesharing did not require fingerprinting as part of the criminal background check on Lyft drivers. However, a provision stated that the PSC could require the fingerprinting after Dec. 15, 2016.

Since the legislation passed, Uber and Lyft have been required to demonstrate that their background checks are just as strong as the government-backed fingerprinting process. That’s what they will aim to do at the days-long hearing session.

The ridesharing companies have shown that they think fingerprinting is make-or-break. It was the reason Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin, Texas, earlier this year. The issue rose to the surface amid a national debate about safety in ridesharing.

“If required, these new procedures put the economic opportunities of tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and reliable transportation options for millions of riders at risk,” Uber stated in a message to customers and drivers earlier this week.

In Uber’s filing with the PSC, the company says its checks — administered by Checkr — are stronger because it reviews courthouse records, rather than rap sheets kept by the state and FBI that are reviewed after fingerprinting. Since the government checks show arrests rather than final court decisions, Uber argues that it is more likely to find out whether if a person was convicted or not.

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“It is an unfortunate truth that African Americans are arrested at rates far greater than their representation in the general population, which means this community would be hit particularly hard by this additional barrier,” the petition states.

As you may expect in a story about Uber and Lyft, the fingerprint-based background checks are used by taxi companies. The company that owns the Yellow and Checker cab services are involved in the hearing, and a representative already provided testimony to the PSC about why the government check works better.

The PSC is expected to rule before the end of the year.

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