Transportation association, legislators raise concerns over ridesharing companies

By Jane Lee

With Uber’s recent expansion to the Champaign-Urbana area, the technology based ridesharing platform has sparked a variety of reactions. 

The Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association started the “Who’s Driving You?” campaign in 2014 to examine potential safety issues related to Uber.

Dave Sutton, campaign spokesman, said the campaign’s goal is to make consumers and leaders aware of ridesharing companies that are undercutting public safety, while underinvesting in areas like proper insurance and criminal background checks.

Lauren Altmin, Uber spokeswoman, said the company has developed a rigorous three-step screening process on county, federal and multi-state levels.

“The county, the federal courthouse records and multi-state criminal database also go back seven years,” Altmin said. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a federal law, Uber can only obtain criminal records from the most recent seven years. 

Drivers are also screened through the National Sex Offender Registry, Altmin said. Uber’s background checks, she added, set the standard for ridesharing companies and are consistent nationwide, unlike the taxi industry.

However, Sutton said those background checks are not enough compared to the security measures taxi companies go through. He said Hirease, a private company that runs Uber’s background checks, is separate from FBI background checking.

“If you think of it, a private company is no different than you or I,” Sutton said. “We don’t have access to the same type of information that government officials would.”

On March 9, eight members of Congress signed a letter addressed to the CEOs of Uber, Lyft and Sidecar asking the companies to implement “comprehensive fingerprint-based background checks.” 

In their letter, the members pointed out incidents of sexual assault and violence that occurred in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

These incidents are also what led the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association to start its campaign to highlight the potential safety risks that may be associated with ridesharing companies.

“If you truly want to be safe, I would stay out of the vehicles until such time that they begin to (issue fingerprinting),” Sutton said. “Sometimes by saving a couple of dollars, you place yourself in a much greater risk.”

Eliza Maldonado, junior in LAS, said she and her friends were 20 minutes away from campus and decided to take an Uber car back.

Maldonado said users can see how the driver looks and where they’re from, but the app isn’t explicit on details about them.

“I guess with the whole background (checks), that would be a lot more official, and you can check if they’re actually a good person, rather than having some stranger,” she said. “They’re strangers either way, but it’s more beneficial for anybody riding it.”

Altmin said in cities, drivers and consumers have said they want more choices, and a PR campaign does not change the facts. 

“The taxi industry for decades has done nothing about consumers or providing opportunities to drivers that choose to work with them,” she said. “They didn’t evolve their business model and they certainly didn’t innovate. Rather than playing catch-up, they’re playing games to protect their monopoly.”

Uber, Altim said, is committed to safety and has been innovating and implementing new technology for the well-being of its riders and drivers.

“Uber is a technology platform, what we’re seeing is that legislators are recognizing the new and different business model and are creating regulations that account for it,” she said.

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