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TTA Testifies Before Congress That Uber, Lyft Drivers Should Be Fingerprinted

By Dave Sutton, Melwood Global

Photo: Capitol Hill
Capitol Hill

Congress has been threatening to hold a hearing during the past few years, as news of Uber and Lyft passengers being assaulted by drivers has, tragically, become commonplace. This month, it finally happened.

On Wednesday, October 16, The Transportation Alliance was front and center amid proceedings before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways & Transit. Because the hearing was held during the TTA conference, legislative counsel Paul Miller testified before Congress on behalf of the trade association.

Miller was one of just four panelists chosen to provide testimony. The others were Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor of Gary, Indiana; Jon Martz of Enterprise’s van-pooling service, Commute; and Larry Willis of the AFL-CIO. Uber and Lyft were invited to testify but decided to skip the hearing, angering committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

Politico described the atmosphere in the majestic Rayburn House Office Building as “tense.” It was. For the past six to eight weeks, Uber and Lyft has been leading Chairman DeFazio to believe their respective CEOs would attend the committee hearing. The companies “blew them off” reported The Washington Post.

Chairman DeFazio was incensed. “The failure, today, of Uber and Lyft to appear is a telling sign that they don’t want to answer questions on the record about their operations,” DeFazio said in his opening statement. “Perhaps they don’t want to talk about their public safety problems,” he added a moment later.

DeFazio is profoundly aware of how Uber’s background checks continue to place passengers at risk. In June 2015, DeFazio wrote to then-Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, urging the company to conduct fingerprint background checks on drivers. “Four years later, the process Uber and Lyft use to vet drivers is woefully inadequate leaving passengers vulnerable and at risk for harassment or assault,” DeFazio stated in his press release after the hearing.

More urgently, police in DeFazio’s district just discovered a convicted murderer and a sex offender driving for Uber and Lyft at the very same time the companies are making a legislative push for state-level oversight that would prohibit local efforts to screen TNC drivers.

“This hearing should put TNCs on notice that for their long-term survival, and for any hope of ever partnering with agencies who utilize federal funds, they are going to have to clean up their act,” DeFazio stated.

During his testimony, Paul Miller of The Transportation Alliance cited the number of reported assaults suffered by TNC passengers, detailed the inadequacy of the TNCs’ background checks, and specifically called for the companies to commit to fingerprint-based background checks as a condition to be an eligible vendor for federally funded transportation.

Most dramatically, during the hearing, Miller made DeFazio aware that the federal General Services Administration is angling to use Uber and Lyft to ferry passengers. This was clearly new and useful information to DeFazio.

“That was news to me,” DeFazio responded. “We definitely have a handle on that,” he added. Politicocaptured this exchange between DeFazio and Miller with an article headlined, “DeFazio Looking for Leverage Over Uber, Lyft.”

“Democrats on the House Transportation Committee threatened to hit Uber and Lyft in a small slice of their ridership, federal employee travel, if the Transportation Network Companies don’t ‘clean up their acts,’” the article stated.

Among the committee members and the assembled panel, there appeared strong consensus that Uber and Lyft passengers are enduring numerous assaults directly attributable to the companies’ inadequate background checks.

There was also strong consensus that the time had arrived for Congress to take action. “Congress cannot avoid its responsibility to engage to investigate its role in overseeing this industry,” said Chair Eleanor Holmes Norton in her opening statement, covered in a Consumer Affairs article on the hearing.

Although the hearing featured intense criticism of Uber’s and Lyft’s passenger safety record, this was by no means the only concern. The AFL-CIO representative outlined the TNCs’ abusive treatment of workers. In response, committee members pledged to dive more deeply into the employee-versus-contractor issue, and whether or not to emulate California’s Assembly Bill 5, commonly referred to as “AB 5”, the new law that limits companies’ classification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Opinions on AB 5 appeared mixed among committee members.

The other strong area of focus was Uber’s and Lyft’s harmful impacts on public transit and congestion. One committee member wondered whether public transit agencies partnering with Uber and Lyft were factoring in the risk of the companies increasing their prices once investor subsidies were removed.

Individually and as a whole, committee members pledged to continue to gather information that they said would shape future legislation involving Uber, Lyft and other TNCs.

The two-hour hearing can be viewed here. It is well worth watching in order for TTA members and leadership to grasp how completely the bloom is off the rose for TNCs, and how profoundly the TTA has impacted the thinking of our country’s leadership on the critical lack of passenger safety with these companies, entities which, now a decade old, are learning that passenger safety is indeed a defining issue when providing transportation services. Pretending safety isn’t worth discussing with elected officials is simply not an option for any responsible transportation company.

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Established in 1917, The Transportation Alliance is the non-profit trade association that represents 1,000 private sector companies in the local passenger transportation for-hire industry worldwide and is the industry's leading information, education and legislative resource.
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