State Nixes Fingerprint Requirement For Uber, Similar Companies

OCEAN CITY — While Ocean City continues to wrestle with how best to regulate Uber, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) last month announced it had approved an alternative background check process for drivers that appears looser than the process for resort cab drivers.

Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft, for example, have steadily made their presence felt in the resort for the last two years as the app-based ride system has continued to proliferate. Resort officials from the beginning have wrestled with how best to fit the growing TNCs into the town’s ordinances governing the highly-regulated taxi cab industry, but it has proven to be a moving target.

Also from the beginning, Ocean City’s taxi cab industry has railed against what it claims is not a level playing field with the TNCs. For example, Ocean City several years ago implemented a medallion system in order to limit the number of legitimate cabs in the resort and set the number at 175.

In addition, the strengthened ordinance requires annual vehicle inspections, requires the cabs to be operated with meters with specific rates spelled out, proof of insurance and possession of a valid Ocean City business license. Taxi cab drivers must also obtain a permit from the city and are subject to stringent background checks and random drug testing.

The latter has caused some angst for resort cab companies. When Uber and Lyft burst onto the scene, resort taxi companies complained the drivers were not subject to the same stringent background checks including finger-printing, for example. Uber contended its own self-imposed background checks were at least as stringent as those required of cab drivers and sought an exemption from the PSC on finger-printing.

Last week, the PSC announced it had approved alternative background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers minus the finger-printing requirement, opining the commercial background check process they currently use is more comprehensive and accurate.

“The commission noted that Raiser and Lyft’s background checks involve extensive efforts to identify criminal history, are supplemented by ongoing safety protocols and updates, and include unique and emerging methods of authenticating the identity of drivers,” a release from the PSC reads. “The commission noted that neither fingerprinting-based nor commercial background checks are completely comprehensive and accurate.”

The PSC essentially ruled the background check processes already employed by the TNCs were satisfactory to ensure the safety of the riding public.

“In order to ensure that the safety of the riding public is maintained at the high standards set by the General Assembly, the commission has approved a process that incorporates all aspects of the TNC’s current methods and requires additional safety provisions,” the release reads. “We find that the alternative background check processes we approve are as comprehensive and accurate as the fingerprint-based background check.”

The PSC’s ruling does come with some caveats, however. The TNCs must re-run background checks on all drivers annually. Any background check provider used by the TNCs must be audited and accredited and if a TNC changes its background check provider, it must notify the commission within 60 days.

With each driver application submitted to the PSC, the TNC must provide certification verifying the identity of the applicant. Drivers must report arrests and convictions to the TNCs within three days and the TNCs, in turn, must notify the PSC. The TNCs must look back through the entire adult history of their applicants for convictions in Maryland and, where possible, other jurisdictions. The PSC may require TNCs to revisit a background check of any applicant if the commission believes there is reason to do so.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.