Uber Claims It May Pull Out Of Maryland Over Driver Background Checks Policy

by Sean Riley

WAMU and Baltimore Sun

Uber is threatening to pull out of Maryland if state regulators require it to revamp its driver screening system, forcing it to use FBI fingerprint background checks that the ride-hailing company has opposed in most markets across the country, an Uber spokesman said Wednesday.

Maryland’s Public Service Commission (PSC) is scheduled to begin three days of hearings Thursday that will determine if ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft will have to use fingerprinting in criminal background checks on drivers. A decision is expected by Dec. 15. Maryland lawmakers created a legal framework for ride-hailing companies last year, allowing regulators to revisit the background check issue by the end of 2016.

In a 50-page petition, Uber, which says it has provided 10 million rides in Maryland over the past two years, argues its background check process is more “comprehensive and accurate” than the fingerprint background check the PSC is allowed to “impose.”

Uber says it “identifies and reviews courthouse records — the best source for determining whether an individual has been convicted of a crime — to screen” drivers, “aiming to keep riders safe while preserving opportunities for good would-be drivers.”

But there have been a number of disturbing cases involving drivers who slipped through Uber’s system. In May, Uber driver Jonathan Hemming of Gaithersburg was arrested after allegedly trying to gun down Montgomery County police officers. He had an extensive criminal record.

And a website funded by the taxi industry, WhosDrivingYou.org, maintains a running list of incidents.

Despite those cases, Uber in its petition contends the fingerprinting system is flawed because it “is built around reviewing rap sheets” which “do not capture the many arrests that are initiated without a fingerprint.”

In a statement, Lyft said fingerprinting checks are outdated and limited, and disproportionately disadvantage potential drivers from minority communities.

"In contrast, the modern background check process we use in Maryland is comprehensive and rigorous, pulling data directly from national and local court databases that are up-to-date, while still encouraging part-time drivers, who make up the vast majority of our Maryland community, to drive with Lyft," the statement said.

Is Uber bluffing?

The taxi industry also will get to present arguments before the PSC. Dave Sutton, a spokesman for the Taxicab, Limousine, & Paratransit Association, said he believes Uber is bluffing because the company would not want to give up the lucrative Maryland market, which includes the Montgomery and Prince George’s County suburbs that are heavily trafficked by D.C.- and Virginia-based drivers, too.


“They would never leave this market. They are perfectly willing to adhere to fingerprint background checks in New York City,” Sutton said. [MORE]