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Uber and background checks

Uber is back in the news again, and as has often been the case it’s not in a good way.


Houston officials discovered crimes ranging from aggravated robbery to driving on a suspended license when they checked the backgrounds of prospective Uber drivers who had been cleared by the company’s review, according to a new report.

City regulatory officials cited the cases in documents prepared for a hearing in Austin on Thursday opposing a bill that would give the state control of regulating Uber and strip the city of its oversight – including criminal background checks.

Because Uber’s review, done by a company called Hirease, is based on Social Security numbers rather than fingerprints, it can be more easily manipulated, the city says.

“These companies miss applicants that use aliases,” according to a city report prepared for the hearing. “For example, a recent … driver, who had been cleared by Hirease, underwent a City of Houston fingerprint background check and it turned out she had 24 alias names, 5 listed birth dates, 10 listed Social Security numbers, and an active warrant for arrest.”

As drivers have applied for permits, “several” have been found that have criminal issues not caught by Uber, the report said.

“The charges include indecent exposure, DWI, possession of a controlled substance, prostitution, fraud, battery, assault, robbery, aggravated robbery, possession of marijuana, theft, sale of alcohol to a minor, traffic of counterfeit goods, trademark counterfeit, possession of narcotics, and driving with a suspended license.”


Mayor Annise Parker said Wednesday that the city is determined to enforce its rules.

“We continue to cite drivers, and we can impound cars and we have done that,” Parker said. “This is a problem with the company, and I’m beside myself right now at being angry at Uber. … I don’t want to go cite another driver. I want to hear directly from Uber.”

See here for some background. KUHF reports that the city is trying to figure out a way it can sanction Uber for its background check failures. Good luck with that.

I want to be clear here that I don’t believe that having a past conviction should necessarily be a disqualifier for would be Uber or Lyft drivers. Not all convictions represent a risk to a passenger’s safety, and I believe people deserve second chances. But any background check system worth doing should be able to discover these things. It is an issue if someone lies about their past, and we should be able to find those people out. This should not be controversial.

If the Lege insists on getting involved with the relationship between TNCs and cities, then let them set these requirements.


House Bill 2440 by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would grant statewide operating permits to companies like Uber and Lyft if they comply with certain regulations and pay an annual $115,000 fee. The companies use smartphone apps to connect people seeking a ride with freelance drivers using their own vehicles.

Paddie wrote on Facebook last month that his bill is about “free market principles” and would “allow innovative technology companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate under predictable, sensible statewide regulations.”


At a hearing before the House Transportation Committee on Thursday, Uber spokeswoman Sally Kay said fingerprint scans were inefficient and that Uber’s background checks were more thorough than the safety measures many cities have called for.

“This isn’t about cost,” she said. “This is about the fact that if we relied on the way many municipalities run their background checks, it wouldn’t be strong enough for us.”


On Thursday, state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, pressed Kay about how Burton slipped through the cracks.

“Did your background check find that this driver was on probation currently?” Phillips asked.

Kay said Uber is investigating the incident and she couldn’t comment. She also said Uber checks applicants for criminal activity within the past seven years, except for sexual offenses.

“That’s not really good enough for me,” Phillips said.

Nor should it be. It’s more than a little ridiculous for Uber to claim that their background checks are more thorough than what cities have called for, given what we’ve seen. The burden of proof for this is on them. Trail Blazers has more.

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