Bill to regulate Uber, Lyft would require driver background checks

A bill that would establish state standards for driver background checks, insurance coverage and vehicle inspection for ride sharing networks such asUber and Lyft was sent to the state assembly Thursday.

But ride share company officials said some of the regulations set "impossible" standards that no other driver in the state has to meet, which might force them to leave the state.

Under the proposal, released by the assembly Transportation Committee, drivers who use ride sharing apps to connect with passengers, must get a criminal background and driving record check.

Drivers convicted of homicide, sexual assault, driving under the influence, reckless driving and possession or sale of a controlled dangerous substance would be barred from working for a ride sharing company.

Taxi drivers protest Uber at Newark Liberty International AirportMore than 100 taxi drivers formed a caravan through Newark Liberty International Airport to call for Uber to be regulated.

Ride share companies would have to obtain a permit from the state Motor Vehicle Commission to operate for a $25,000 annual fee, vehicles would have to pass state inspection and companies would have to maintain six-years worth of records for the MVC or the Division of Consumer Affairs to investigate, in case of a customer complaint.

Either the company, the driver, or both would have to obtain insurance that covers the driver, when they are logged on to the app and passengers. Passengers would be entitled to get an estimate of the cost of the trip before riding.

The bill, co-sponsored by Assemblymen Joseph Lagana, D-Bergen, Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex and Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce, R-Morris, now goes to the full assembly for a vote.

"This is about creating statewide standards to eliminate confusion about how much insurance coverage is appropriate, who has jurisdiction over companies operations and what happens if there's a dispute between a passenger and a driver," Wisniewski said in a statement.

Lawmakers and the ride-share industry have been wrangling over regulations since late 2014. After a series of the hearings, where ride share companies argued that more regulation would put them out of business, legislation was pulled back and re-drafted. The taxi and limousine industry has lobbied for ride share companies to meet the same regulations they do.   

But Ana Mahony, Uber New Jersey general manager, said the bill needs work or the company might have to leave the state.

"This bill would make it impossible for Uber to continue operating, not because we
don't want to, but because it includes poison pills that have driven us out of other markets and would drive us out of New Jersey," she told the committee.

A central Jersey lawmaker said it's time to join Pennsylvania and Delaware by saving the expense of having front license plates on vehicles.


A provision that would require an international background check for drivers to see if they have violations is a restrictive requirement that no other driver in the state has to meet, Mahony said.

"There is no worldwide database of crimes to check," she said. "It sets an impossible standard for drivers that no state entity is capable of enforcing."

Lyft officials expressed hope a compromise could be reached.

"New Jersey deserves a permanent statewide ride sharing framework that provides clarity for drivers and passengers," said Chelsea Wilson, Lyft spokesperson. "We are pleased that both the Senate and Assembly are looking at common-sense ways to allow rides sharing to grow, and are confident that legislators will soon pass a comprehensive solution." 

Meanwhile, some municipalities, such as Newark and Elizabeth have debated passing their own laws governing background checks and insurance requirements for ride sharing companies.

The bill was praised by the taxi and limousine industry for requiring more stringent background checks they said will protect the public.

"We applaud Assemblymen Lagana, Singleton and Wisniewski for introducing statewide regulation to avoid patchwork local rules that create an uneven regulatory system, but more is needed to adequately protect the riding public," said Jason Sharenow, Limousine Association of New Jersey president.

"To properly regulate companies like Uber and Lyft, mandatory fingerprinted background checks are a must to ensure a comprehensive background check."


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