Danny Cevallos is a legal analyst for CNN and he’s published an opinion piece regarding ride sharing service Uber which finally peels back some of the constant establishment criticism of of the company. (By way of disclosure… I use Uber. I love Uber. Peer to peer business models are the wave of the future. That is all.) The fact is that Uber is pretty much constantly under attack from cab companies and their unions (obviously) but also from the politicians in large cities who rely on those unions for support. But some of the complaints sound, at least on the surface, like troubling incidents which are worth investigation. Danny brings up one of the most dire and sweeps it away in an interesting fashion. (CNN… emphasis added)
According to a complaint filed Wednesday by the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, Uber, the revolutionary ride-hailing service, hired several drivers with criminal records ranging from murder to child abuse, due to flaws in Uber’s background-checking system. If the allegations are true, Uber has permitted untold numbers of convicted criminals to drive under its aegis, with direct access to unsuspecting riders.
I’m fine with that.
Alright… just to be clear, I’m not fine with that in principle. When you hire someone to drive you somewhere in a vehicle you are putting yourself in a rather vulnerable position, far more so than if you ran into somebody with a dodgy record when they are serving you a burger at a fast food joint. You’re something of a captive audience – literally – for the driver and I think we’d all like to have a reasonable level of assurance that they are not actual psychopaths and the gym bag in the front seat isn’t filled up with duct tape, handcuffs, tasers, ether and knives.
But by the same token, as Cevallos goes on to point out, how much of an assurance do we have that this isn’t the case in a regular Yellow Cab on any given trip? Apparently it’s true that the background check system Uber was using wasn’t as rigorous as other nationally used programs, but they’re able to adjust to that. Also, innovation involves risk, as Danny points out, and no system is perfect. (That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t strive to do the best they can, but we all accept a certain amount of risk when we step outside our doors.)
So background checks on the drivers are an issue, right? It’s a great reason for the mayors of large cities to go after Uber and criticize them. But that’s going to generate a bit of a sticky wicket for people like Bill de Blasio in New York City. He’s been obeying his union masters and taking shots at Uber any which way he can so far, but let’s not forget that he’s had some other items on his agenda recently. It was only this summer that the honorable mayor was pushing a new law to make it illegal for employers to ask about a person’s criminal background during the interview process. And if you want to deny them the job after initially offering it and then finding out they have a record, you open yourself up to lawsuits.
Perhaps that wouldn’t apply to Uber, but how many jobs are there out there for people with a prison record? Isn’t there some sort of a disconnect here? You don’t want employers asking about former time spent in prison but you don’t want Uber hiring drivers who may have killed the last five people they got in a car with. What’s a mayor to do?
Getting yourself in a situation where you wind up with a prison record carries consequences with it. One of those is that it’s going to take a lot more work on your part to establish trust and build up a good record to wipe out the bad one. We’d all like to be as safe as possible when we hit the Uber button on our phones to summon a car and if that means it’s tougher for an ex-convict to get a job driving us as soon as they get out of prison, that’s just the way of the world.