Uber criticizes City of Austin’s background check procedure regarding drivers for hire

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Uber criticized the City of Austin’s background checks for drivers for hire as the City moves to finalize background check procedures for ride-hailing companies.  

In a memo to Austin Mayor Steve Alder, Uber general manager Marco McCottry presented results from a recent internal audit in an effort to persuade the City government to adopt Uber’s background check process.

The audit claimed of 163 individuals with chauffeur licenses issued by the City of Austin who applied to drive with Uber’s platform in Austin, 53 were denied because they failed Uber’s background check. Nineteen of the prospective drivers were convicted of a “recent serious offense,” such as a DWI, a hit-and-run or a felony assault, according to McCottry. 

The City of Austin cannot confirm Uber’s claims because Uber has not released these names, and their drivers’ background check information is not on the public record, according to Transportation Department spokesperson Samantha Alexander. However, anyone can request information on the background of commercial drivers registered with the City of Austin.

In his memo, McCottry said Uber’s background checks are conducted through a third party and include measures such as identification, GPS tracking and a rating system in an effort to “reduce incidents, improve ratings, and accurately gauge whether a driver might put a rider at risk.” According to Uber, drivers must be 21 years or older and are “screened through a process that includes county, federal, and multi-state criminal background checks.”

“We feel our background checks are robust and thorough,” McCottry wrote. “We strongly encourage [Adler] to heed the Austin Transportation Department’s recommendation and require the City to adopt Uber’s background check process.”

Background checks for City of Austin chauffeurs are done through a government agency and require a 10-finger fingerprint panel, identification and criminal history. The City of Austin’s background check verifies the driver’s criminal record to ensure that a driving permit would not provide an opportunity to commit the crime again, according to Alexander.

Journalism junior Emily Gibson uses Uber more frequently because she said it is tailored toward the younger generation, but has taken taxis because her mother had safety concerns. Gibson said she is not very informed about the safety of traditional taxi services or ride-hailing services.

“I find it comforting that Uber allows you to see who your driver is before they pick you up, but that doesn’t really mean anything,” Gibson said. “It’s definitely shocking to me that taxi drivers failed Uber’s background check because Uber has been getting so much bad press centered on employing dangerous drivers. I think maybe people are more trusting of taxis because they have been around for such a long time.”

The concern surrounding background checks comes at a time when the City of Austin is updating regulations for Transportation Network Companies — ride-hailing companies and traditional taxi services — operating within the city. The Austin Mobility Committee is scheduled to discuss TNCs, and the City staff will present information regarding background checks at the committee’s next meeting Nov. 16.