The Record: Uber safety

WHETHER PEOPLE are getting rides in a cab, in a limousine or from a ride-hailing service like Uber, they deserve a driver with a clean background. That's not negotiable.

How to guarantee that is dividing the industry and the Legislature. Bills pending in the Assembly and state Senate leave open the possibility of fingerprinting for drivers with mobile-app ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Uber says that's not necessary and has threatened to leave the state if it happens.

The threat is a little hard to take seriously, considering how well Uber is doing in New Jersey. It says it has logged 9.5 million rides since beginning operations in New Jersey in late 2013 and that it has about 13,000 drivers. Uber also operates in New York City, where fingerprinting of drivers is required.

That type of popularity makes compromise essential for the good of the company, the state and the traveling public.

The bills in the Assembly and Senate are similar but slightly different. The Senate bill would leave fingerprinting up to the attorney general, and the Assembly bill would give that job to the state police.

Supporters note that fingerprinting is hardly unique. Not only are traditional cab and limousine drivers fingerprinted, but in many cases, so are casino blackjack dealers and Little League coaches. Supporters say fingerprinting is the best way to ensure that a driver with Uber, Lyft or any other service poses no risk to passengers.

The industry contends that its own background checks are superior to those done by police. An industry supporter, in fact, told a Senate committee that the "FBI background-check systems and the state background-check systems are completely flawed."

We don't doubt mistakes occur, but to say the entire FBI system is flawed is an exaggeration.

In fact, fingerprint backers point to a lawsuit in California that alleged 25 drivers who passed Uber's background check were subsequently found to have criminal records. The lawsuit was settled, with Uber agreeing to pay $25 million.

It's a little hard to understand why Uber and Lyft so adamantly oppose fingerprinting. Uber has said fingerprinting could hurt recruitment in minority areas, noting that people of color are arrested at a higher rate than others. That may be true, but it's troubling to suggest that minority drivers may be harder to find if they must go through a fingerprint background check.

Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services offer passengers a ride in a private vehicle. Riders certainly would feel safer if they knew their driver had passed a comprehensive background check. It's obvious the public wants the services that Uber and its competitors offer. But the public deserves a safe ride, and it's up to the Legislature to do what it can to make that happen.

Fingerprinting drivers would add another important layer of security for riders. If Uber chooses to leave New Jersey over fingerprinting, other app-based ride-hailing companies will be more than happy to follow the new guidelines.



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