State Regulators Deny L.A.'s Request to Fingerprint Uber, Lyft Drivers

A man checks out a vehicle while attending an Uber recruitment event in Los Angeles on March 10, 2016. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

The California Public Utilities Commission has denied a request by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and two City Council members to launch a pilot fingerprint background check for Uber and Lyft drivers.

In a letter dated March 22, addressed to Garcetti and City Council members Paul Krekorian and Herb Wesson, CPUC Commissioner Liane Randolph said she was planning to issue a ruling asking a series of questions about the use of fingerprint background checks for ride-service drivers.

"While I appreciate the City of Los Angeles's innovation in setting out the framework for a pilot, I would prefer to consider statewide options before launching a city-specific program," she wrote.

The CPUC is currently considering whether to require fingerprint background checks, as part of its ongoing proceedings to regulate ride services.

Randolph said she hoped the CPUC would be able to provide direction on the issue "by fall of this year."

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In their letter to Randolph, the L.A. officials said that the current "protocols and practices" on background checks are "a cause for concern to the riding public."

Even if "TNC (transportation network company) claims of safety and security are to be believed, their best practices are subject to change at any time without the backstop of law or regulation," the letter said.

The pilot program would have also applied to limo, van and shuttle service drivers. It would have required the services “to reveal how and why they deny drivers employment, what the appeals processes are and how fingerprinting requirements impact the number of drivers they accept or reject.”

Los Angeles taxicab drivers have been required to submit fingerprints for decades. They are also required to do it in most other major cities.

Current CPUC regulations do not require fingerprint background checks. Law enforcement officials have said they are the "gold standard." Ride services counter that no background check is perfect, and argue their checks are just as good.

Uber uses Checkr, which tracks criminal history for the past seven years.  The company says hundreds of drivers who passed fingerprint background checks have not cleared their checks. They've also argued that fingerprint checks are discriminatory.

But the L.A. city officials point to an L.A. Times investigation that found some Uber drivers at LAX had lengthy criminal records, despite being vetted by the company.

A Lyft spokeswoman said drivers "undergo a comprehensive screening process, which includes an independent, professionally administered background check mandated by the State of California, as well as an in-person session where their credentials are confirmed."

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