One Uber driver was convicted of second-degree murder in Los Angeles, some had sex offense or kidnapping convictions, five have had DUI convictions, and several others were once convicted of fraud, or have been driving under false names. These details were made public as part of an amendment to a consumer protection lawsuit that Los Angeles prosecutors filed nearly a year ago. The amendment details the criminal records of twenty-five drivers whose histories were not discovered by the company that Uber uses for its background checks.
Even before prosecutors made this amendment public, Uber had been dealing with the fallout from a Los Angeles Times report that revealed criminal histories of drivers cited for illegal pickups at the Los Angeles International Airport and found that they included 22 drivers with past felony convictions or misdemeanor drunken driving convictions, and three drivers who were using another person’s account to drive. Additionally, in July, an administrative judge in California recommended that Uber be suspended and fined $7.3 million for failing to comply with state regulations.
Neither Uber, nor Lyft drivers are required to submit fingerprints as part of their background checks. Fingerprints are used to make more accurate identifications, and they can also be run against federal criminal data bases. Such identifications may have screened the aforementioned driver who was convicted of second-degree murder as he was able to sign up for Uber under an assumed name. Uber has stated that its background checks will screen for any criminal history within the past seven years, though the amendments revealed that the DUI convictions did occur within that period of time.
In a prepared statement, Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend even went so far as to say that federal background checks can discriminate against minorities and the poor because they record arrests as well as convictions. By contrast, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation runs the prints of potential taxi drivers through federal criminal databases, and a workforce that consists of roughly 95% immigrant drivers may have not had the problems that Ms. Behrend is alleging.
The lawsuit that Los Angeles prosecutors filed last year alleges that Uber misleads its customers about safety and overcharges its riders. Specifically, Uber is accused of fraud for charging a $4 “airport fee toll” for rides to and from San Francisco International Airport, even when drivers weren’t paying the toll, and for charging a $1 “safe rides fee” for its background checks. And since Uber can be fined per-violation, it could be charged up to $25 million. Lyft has already settled with prosecutors for $250,000 and have agreed to submit its app to a state testing agency to measure accuracy in calculating fares, a move Uber refused to make. Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said that Lyft has agreed to “play by the rules,” though it is unclear whether or not Lyft is changing its background check policy.
Uber and Lyft are “ride sharing” services for which drivers use their own cars and split a portion of the fares with the company. Passengers can request rides and pay fares via a smartphone application.