Massachusetts Uber, Lyft Screenings Will be Toughest in U.S.

By BOB SALSBERG | November 30, 2016

Drivers for ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft will undergo what state officials call the most comprehensive background checks in the U.S. under agreements announced Monday by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration.

The screenings will begin on Jan. 6, with both companies guaranteeing that every driver on the road will have passed a thorough state criminal background check by April 3, according to the separately negotiated deals. The timetable, officials said, is about a year ahead of the schedule contemplated under a law approved this year by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and signed by the Republican governor.

The new Massachusetts protocols establish a “national standard” for screening those who drive for the ride-hailing firms, Baker said.

“With the signing of these agreements, consumers who take advantage of the innovative technology services provided by transportation network companies can have confidence that the driver has undergone a thorough background check that includes both criminal and driving records,” Baker added, using another term to describe companies such as Uber and Lyft.

The criminal background checks, to be conducted by a newly created division of the Department of Public Utilities, will include verification that the driver is not a registered sex offender. The companies will be required to perform twice annual checks of driving records.

While the agreements announced Monday were termed voluntary, the law that established the state’s first operating rules for ride-hailing firms envisioned the two-tiered driver screening system, with one check performed by the company and the other by the state.

The law does not mandate that drivers be fingerprinted. Boston cabbies, who are fingerprinted under city rules, sharply criticized the omission of a fingerprinting requirement for the app-based services.

Besides the new state tests, San Francisco-based Uber said in a statement it would continue background checks currently performed on drivers by a third-party vendor.

“Uber’s technology ensures safety before, during and after every trip with features that improve transparency and accountability,” it said.

Lyft, also based in San Francisco, said in a statement it had “consistently supported and implemented comprehensive background checks that prioritize passenger safety.”

There have been a handful of criminal allegations made against drivers for ride-hailing companies in Massachusetts in recent months. In September, a driver was charged with raping a Boston-area woman who had asked for a ride to her home; the driver pleaded not guilty.

Besides tougher background checks, the state law also sets new insurance standards and pricing guidelines for the companies.

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