There’s no question that when it comes to ridesharing, especially when children are in the car, safety is paramount. Customers need to trust that their drivers are committed to keeping them safe and that the drivers are thoroughly and properly investigated before they’re allowed behind the wheel. There can be no compromise on public safety.
This is something that everyone understands, whether you’re a parent like me, or a company offering rideshare services to the public. The question for rideshare companies is: “How do we protect the public at large while still fostering a culture of efficiency and innovation?”
The answer is that private sector background checks and the use of real-time driver-rating systems ensure the highest degree of consumer safety and security. There is little to gain from adopting additional state-imposed background check requirements for rideshare drivers, especially when the requirements being proposed won’t actually make riders safer.
But that’s exactly what the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is trying to do. The CPUC has sent a cease-and-desist letter to San Francisco rideshare service Shuddle for not registering with TrustLine, the semi-state run agency that does background checks for childcare facilities. While the state reviews the rules and is hopefully working toward updating its regulations, Shuddle has pledged full cooperation and has registered its drivers with TrustLine in addition to continuing to perform its own rigorous driver screening processes.
The CPUC is trying to regulate Shuddle like a daycare center but imposing TrustLine on the company and similarly situated companies is a misstep by state regulators.
TrustLine approves applicants based solely on fingerprint-based scans using the California Department of Justice’s database. The database alerts employers if a candidate has “disqualifying criminal convictions or substantiated child abuse reports in California.”
Those same fingerprints are also sent to the FBI to search the FBI’s criminal history database. This might sound impressive, but it’s not. These databases are notoriously incomplete. They often only include information about an arrest, but nothing about the results or disposition of the underlying court case. That means if someone was falsely accused of a crime and the case was dismissed, the records would only show the arrest, not the disposition. Under the TrustLine system, that person would not be allowed to work as a service provider. Unfortunately, a system like this disproportionately affects minority communities.
Furthermore, because TrustLine only searches the California DOJ records, it misses crimes that might have been committed in other states. Say, for example, a person has just moved to California and wants to register as a driver. If that person had committed a crime at their last address in New York, TrustLine wouldn’t necessarily find a record of that crime. TrustLine counts on the FBI Criminal History System database to backfill any missing records but the FBI doesn’t necessarily catch every record from the county or the municipal level, especially records with their resulting disposition.
Additionally, there are the very real issues of time and expense and what that means to the burgeoning industry of new economy ventures. TrustLine searches cost $135 per applicant and it can take weeks to receive their final reports, which are not surprisingly sent via snail mail instead of electronically. An FBI search can take up to three months. Rideshare companies wouldn’t begrudge this time and expense if they weren’t already doing a better and more thorough job.
Shuddle, and its rideshare peers, already perform extensive background checks on drivers through private, third party companies. These companies can identify and detect movement patterns which are then used to target where to search for relevant primary source records. They search every available court system at the municipal, county, state and federal levels for prohibiting records, often sending an investigator to the appropriate jurisdiction to review the records and disposition of each case.
Shuddle-type background checks keep the bad actors out and allow hard-working people looking for opportunities in the personal enterprise economy to contribute their time, resources and skills without having to worry about the potential for the kind of arbitrary discrimination that can come from using TrustLine.
It is in rideshare companies’ best interest to maintain the highest level of safety possible when it comes to hiring drivers. To do otherwise would put their businesses and lives at risk. By imposing old regulations meant for another era, all the CPUC is doing is slowing the pace of progress while potentially imperiling consumer safety and economic opportunity.
Mike Montgomery is executive director of CALinnovates, a technology advocacy coalition whose membership includes sharing economy companies.