Others’ Opinion: Cities should revisit weak rules governing ride-share drivers

Published 10:25 am Monday, December 26, 2016

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

Ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber have caught on in a big way in the Twin Cities in recent years. Since the two companies came to Minneapolis and St. Paul in 2013, both city councils have adopted regulations. Here and around the country, some of those rules — including insurance liability and licensing cost — have been modified as the services have grown.

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This week, a Star Tribune news story revealed another area of oversight that merits attention. A review of rules in other cities showed that Minneapolis and St. Paul have the least-restrictive driver eligibility rules of any of the nation’s top 25 metro areas. As a result, it’s easier for people with criminal or dubious driving records to become Lyft and Uber drivers. Current driver requirements are mostly self-enforced by the companies, and drivers who should be ineligible can circumvent the rules.

That poses an unacceptable risk to public safety. City councils in both cities should set stronger driver eligibility regulations.

Among the examples uncovered by the newspaper: An Uber driver with three convictions for theft and an assault arrest ran a red light and crashed into another car while transporting a customer. Another Uber driver on duty was stopped by an officer after driving through two stop signs and forcing another car to swerve to avoid a crash. It turns out the driver had six moving violations since 2013.

Others approved to drive in Minneapolis and St. Paul — and who likely would not have passed muster in some other cities — include felons, drivers with as many as four drunken-driving convictions, and men convicted of crimes related to assaulting their wives and girlfriends.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, people with drunken-driving convictions must wait at least three years before driving for Uber or Lyft. In 14 cities, the restriction lasts seven years, while San Antonio bans drivers with multiple drunken-driving convictions.

Reporter Jeffrey Meitrodt found that almost a third of the 176 Uber or Lyft drivers the Star Tribune identified have been convicted of offenses that violated Uber’s or Lyft’s hiring standards or would have disqualified them from driving for the companies in other cities. In response, both Uber and Lyft said that they typically follow local driver standards. An Uber spokeswoman said after seeing the Star Tribune findings that 11 local drivers who should not have been hired were removed. The spokeswoman added that the company is taking steps to ensure that similar lapses don’t happen in the future.

That’s another oversight area that needs review locally. In Houston and New York, public officials — not the ride-share companies — do the background checks on drivers. Those cities also require drivers to be fingerprinted, which enables officials to catch applicants who are trying to use someone else’s identity.

In the few years since they’ve been operating legally in the Twin Cities, ride-sharing numbers have surpassed those for traditional taxis. That large and growing customer base should be confident that drivers have been properly screened and selected.

St. Paul, Minneapolis and other jurisdictions that regulate ride sharing should revisit driver eligibility rules and make the changes necessary to improve public safety.