Uber’s push to expand into upstate New York cities such as Buffalo, Rochester and Albany is reigniting a debate over whether the drivers for the app-based ride-hailing service should be fingerprinted.
Drivers are already fingerprinted in New York City, and though local rules vary, many taxi drivers around the state are also required to be fingerprinted. Supporters say it’s a cheap, effective way to ensure potentially dangerous criminals don’t wind up driving the public.
Uber is pushing back against calls for a statewide fingerprinting requirement, however, arguing that fingerprint checks can often flag people who were merely arrested, even if they were later exonerated or the charges were dropped.
State law prohibits Uber from operating outside of New York City. Buffalo was the largest American city without Uber until the company pulled out of Austin, Texas, this year over a new fingerprinting requirement in that city. Officials in Chicago recently dropped a proposed fingerprinting requirement when Uber threatened to leave the city.
Lawmakers are expected to take up Uber’s proposed expansion after they return to Albany for the 2017 session, which gets underway next week. They are pushing back against talk of including a fingerprinting requirement in any new regulations.
“The Legislature and the governor have been progressive leaders on criminal justice reforms,” said Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang. “Given their records, it would be surprising if New York entertained a red-herring issue put forth by taxi special interests.”
Mark Ilacqua doesn’t understand Uber’s resistance to a regulation that already covers his business. Ilacqua is the president of Syracuse Regional Taxi, which operates 50 cabs. Taxi drivers in Syracuse are required to submit to fingerprint checks, in addition to a driving history review. Ilacqua said the checks protect the public and the cab companies that own the vehicles. Uber, on the other hand, requires drivers to supply their own vehicles.
“We have a vested interest, but they don’t,” he said of Uber. “Don’t wait for a college student to be sexually assaulted. New York City has been fingerprinting drivers for years. All we’re saying is, if you’re going to move into upstate, follow the same rules.”
One option would be statewide regulations that allow local municipalities to require fingerprint checks or not. Of the 38 states that now have some form of statewide Uber regulations, none have a fingerprint requirement, according to Uber.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports Uber’s expansion but hasn’t weighed in on the fingerprint debate.
Meanwhile, an increasingly large coalition of bar and restaurant owners, sports teams, anti-drunk driving advocates and local officials is calling on lawmakers to act. In a letter to Cuomo and top lawmakers on Thursday, mayors and county executives from Syracuse, Rochester, Schenectady, Troy, Utica, Binghamton and other communities urged passage of the expansion.
Visitors, the letter said, are “stunned” when they arrive upstate and realize their Uber app doesn’t work, adding, “Simply put, we must join the 21st century.”
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