Uber and Its Suspect Drivers Are Headed for LAX

Friday, August 28, 2015

Just days after prosecutors from Los Angeles and San Francisco argued in court papers that Uber’s crummy background checks were letting criminals drive for them, the L.A. City Council told the company (valued at $50 billion) and fellow ride-sharing startup Lyft they were welcome to pick up customers at LAX.

The council voted 9-6 to let the app-based companies apply for permits, a decision hotly contested by the taxi industry and critics of the new business models proliferating among the sharing economy. They could be operating at the Los Angeles International Airport within a month.

The council, at the last moment, attached an amendment directing the City Attorney to explore requiring the companies to fingerprint their drivers like the taxi services do. Skimpy background checks are just one money-saving feature of the sharing economy, whose practitioners often claim to be outside the regulatory structures that govern their competition.    

L.A. and S.F. district attorneys filed a 62-page amended complaint last week in a civil lawsuit that claims Uber is a “continuing threat to consumers and the public.” The DAs detailed the criminal histories of 25 drivers, including a convicted murderer and other felons. The lawsuit claims the company misleads the public by calling its background checks rigorous.

Uber drivers had felony convictions for kidnapping for ransom with a firearm, assault with a firearm, grand theft and fraud, robbery, identity theft, burglary and sale of methamphetamine. Five drivers had misdemeanor drunk driving convictions within the last seven years.   

One driver had a conviction for second-degree murder on his record but lied about his name to get the job. Another was convicted of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14. The DAs said he had provided more than 5,500 rides in the two cities.

In addition to not fingerprinting drivers, Uber relies on a sex registry that doesn’t include convictions more than seven years old, the DAs said. That knocks around 30,000 names off the list.

The company has backed off claims on its website of conducting “industry-leading” background checks, but Sarah Kessler at FastCompany questions whether Uber has anything to apologize for.

The company does, after all, perform some kind of background check, unlike a lot of its compatriots in the sharing economy. Airbnb and dog-sitter service DogVacay, the “Airbnb for dogs,” rely on social profiles, ID verification and peer reviews. You can rent your neighbor’s car at Getaround and RelayRides without a complete background check.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

DAs Take on Uber in Scathing Amended Suit (by Elizabeth Warmerdam, Courthouse News Service)

Prosecutors Say Uber Hired Drivers Convicted of Murder, Sexual Assault, Other Felonies (by Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News)

Prosecutors: Uber Background Checks Missed Drivers' Criminal Records (by Laura J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times)

The Truth About Uber's Background Checks (by Sarah Kessler, FastCompany)

L.A. and S.F. Warn “Ride-Sharing” Companies about Actually Sharing Rides (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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