Uber and Lyft Are Why Elections Matter
Fingerprinting is a standard part of the background check process for taxicab drivers and many other professionals licensed by the state. But Uber and Lyft argue fingerprint-based background checks are less accurate than their own private systems and discriminate against minorities who are more likely to be in the criminal record system following an arrest, even if never convicted.
Under a state law passed in 2015, the companies are required to begin background checking drivers Dec. 15 using the fingerprint database maintained by the state and the FBI, unless they prove their approach is equally effective. Both companies filed separate petitions with the state Public Service Commission, which regulates ridesharing companies, for permission to continue doing background checks their way.
Uber has said it will pull out of Maryland if fingerprinting is enforced. Lyft has not said it would withdraw, but pointed out that it does not operate in any market where fingerprinting is required except New York City.
The legislation in question, past last year by the Democratically controlled General Assembly, has the potential to cripple the ability of these companies to do business in Maryland. Ultimately, that’s no loss to either Uber or Lyft; they will be wildly successful even if they do make good on their threat to stop doing business in Maryland. But it would ultimately be a detriment to all Marylanders. Consumers would have fewer choices on how to get from point A to point B. Drivers for the two companies would have fewer opportunities to make extra money and to make a better life for themselves. Both of these things are not dependent on the law itself, but would be created by a business climate that would see Uber and Lyft withdraw from the market.
The law, no matter how well-intentioned, could be devastating to consumers and to the independent contractors that drive for these companies.
Maryland will become the only state that requires fingerprint background checks for ridesharing and tens of thousands of drivers will lose their jobs. Ridesharing is a popular work opportunity because drivers are independent contractors and can work when they want with relatively low startup costs. On the local level, besides Austin, New York City and Houston mandate fingerprinting for drivers. While both companies operate in New York City and have no plans to leave, Lyft left Houston in early 2015 and Uber may soon cease its operations there.
Ridesharing companies are adamant in their opposition to mandated fingerprint background checks because they want to know applicants’ comprehensive criminal and driving records. Criminal background checks are only as accurate as the sources that they pull information from, and these sources are often flawed for fingerprint checks.
Though fingerprinting sounds foolproof, these types of checks often fail at registering offenses that name-based ones would flag. Name-based background checks query thousands of courthouse and law enforcement databases to find relevant records. Fingerprint checks only pull information that is connected to fingerprints.
For example, the database that Maryland uses for fingerprint background checks excludes certain traffic violations, including DUIs and reckless driving incidents — both of which name-based background checks would catch. Ridesharing companies clearly need to know about these types of infractions to keep riders safe.
While missing major red flags is a problem with fingerprint background checks, an even more troubling consequence of forcing this system is that otherwise qualified and safe drivers will be denied work opportunities because law enforcement agencies do a poor job of keeping their records up to date. If someone is arrested, but then found not guilty or never charged with a crime, that information would need to be updated for fingerprint background checks to be effective. Yet this follow-up step is often overlooked, which leads to discriminatory results.
You should read the entire thing to see why this fingerprinting requirement is not the panacea that the left would have you believe it is.
That brings us back to the title of this story; why elections matter. In this case, the election in question is the election of Governor Larry Hogan in 2014. The decision affecting Uber and Lyft will be decided by Maryland’s Public Service Commission. The official mission of the PSC is “is to ensure safe, reliable, and economic public utility and transportation service to the citizens of Maryland. ” That’s how Uber and Lyft come under the PSC’s purview, even before the passage of this legislation last year. Most importantly, the members of the Public Service Commission are appointed by the Governor. Of the five members on the PSC currently, three of them were appointed by Governor Hogan (including friend of Red Maryland Tony O’Donnell).
What does that ultimately mean? That means that the private sector and innovation have a fighting chance at the hearing on Thursday. In past years, the Commissioners of the PSC would have been Democratic apparatchiks instead of reasoned Hogan appointees. If for example O’Malley appointees were making this decision, it would be a slam dunk that the PSC would side with the General Assembly, the taxicab interests, and the unions that represent cab drivers and require Uber and Lyft to abide by these regulations. They would not care one whit about what’s in the best interest of the consumer (just look at the ever escalating electric rates under O’Malley for proof of that). They certainly would not be bothered by the potential loss of income to at least 30,000 drivers who are driving for one or both of these services. No, a Democratic PSC would reflexively back the status quo and insure that anti-competitive regulations were put into place at every turn.
And that’s why, in this instance, elections matter. Because with a PSC made up of a majority appointees from Governor Hogan, common sense has a fighting chance. Ultimately, we’re not sure what the PSC is going to decide on Thursday. They should, in my opinion, side with Uber and Lyft seeing as how those companies are already going above and beyond what taxi companies are required to do, even without the fingerprinting requirement. It’s obvious to nearly everybody that the fingerprinting requirement was created as a political payoff by the Democrats, not in any generalized Democratic interest in public safety or in transportation services. But whatever the PSC ultimately decides to do, it will be a decision that likely will have a basis in facts and reasoning more so than in political pandering solely based on the fact that Governor Hogan appointed a majority of the members and not a Democrat.
It’s issues like these, ones far away from the limelight of an election, which make the 2018 election so important. It’s why we have been focusing on this upcoming election since the last one ended. Because what a Governor does and who a Governor appoints has ramifications far, far beyond the soundbites and the one or two issues that dominate the course of a campaign. It’s about an ideological philosophy and an idea about the role of government in our state and in our society. It’s Governor Hogan’s view on government, on regulations, and on providing opportunities for the private sector that guide many of the choices he makes, and certainly helped him decide who to appoint to the Commission that will decided the fate of 30,000+ jobs here in Maryland.
It may not seem like it from a distance, but the fate of companies like Uber and Lyft are why elections matter here in Maryland and why the re-election of Governor Hogan in 2018 is so vital to the economic future of Maryland.