Uber for Teens Reignites Fingerprinting Debate

The Fingerprinting Debate Resurfaces: Uber for Teens Sparks Renewed Discussion

Seven years ago, Uber and Lyft successfully blocked an effort to require ride-hailing app drivers to undergo fingerprinting in California. Fast forward to earlier this year, and the launch of Uber for Teens inadvertently brought this contentious issue back into the spotlight. The discussion has now expanded as startups, Uber, and California regulators debate when a transportation service should mandate fingerprinting for its drivers.

Uber for Teens: The Catalyst

In February, Uber introduced Uber for Teens in California, allowing kids aged 13 to 17 to order rides under a parent’s account. This move prompted Uber to seek clarity from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on a 2013 ruling. The ruling mandated strict background checks, including fingerprinting, for any transportation network company primarily transporting minors. Uber inquired about the interpretation of “primarily” and whether the Commission planned an update.

Public Comments and Advocacy

The request triggered a public comments period, drawing advocacy for fingerprinting from competitors like HopSkipDrive. This startup, which offers a ride-share service for children and assists school districts with transportation, views Uber for Teens as a direct competitor. By engaging in the public comments, HopSkipDrive aims to ensure Uber adheres to the stringent requirements outlined in the 2013 ruling, arguing that even one child riding alone deserves the highest safety standards.

The Trustline Program

At the heart of the debate lies whether Uber should participate in the Department of Justice’s Trustline program. Trustline, maintained by the California Department of Social Services, uses fingerprinting to screen caregivers for criminal arrests and convictions, and against the Child Abuse Central Index. Despite the fact that Uber’s teen service accounts for less than 1% of its total rides, the company could see that number grow over time.

Uber’s Safety Measures

Uber believes its existing screening system and the safety features embedded in Uber for Teens are sufficient. These features include:

  • Live Trip Tracking: Provides real-time updates for parents.
  • Driver Selection: Only the most experienced and highly rated drivers are selected.
  • PIN Verification: Teens must provide a unique PIN set by their parents.
  • Audio Recording: Mandatory audio recording if parents enable microphone permissions.

Uber proactively engaged with the CPUC before launching teen accounts to ensure parental choice while maintaining safety. The company argues that fingerprinting, while important, is not the only method to ensure safety and may even discourage potential drivers from signing up due to the inconvenience.

Broader Implications

Fingerprinting has long been a contentious issue for Uber, which has historically lobbied against such mandates across various cities. The company contends that fingerprinting can disproportionately affect minorities and does not necessarily guarantee up-to-date or complete information. Despite these arguments, many major cities require fingerprint background checks for taxi drivers, though Uber and Lyft have largely avoided these regulations.

Uber’s Position

Uber maintains that their background checks are thorough, involving:

  • Motor Vehicle Reports
  • Criminal Conviction Checks: Including sexual offenses.
  • Annual Re-evaluations and Continuous Monitoring: For disqualifying criminal offenses and driving violations.

Furthermore, Uber’s checks, conducted by a company called Checkr, cover every state and county where a driver has lived or interacted with law enforcement, surpassing the Trustline system which only searches within California.

Future Prospects

As the CPUC’s public comment period remains open, with responses due by July 14, the regulatory process will continue to unfold. Uber remains optimistic that the CPUC will recognize the value teen accounts bring to families and drivers, emphasizing the safety embedded in their system.

The renewed debate over fingerprinting underscores the complexities of balancing safety, convenience, and fairness in the rapidly evolving landscape of ride-hailing services. As regulators and companies navigate these challenges, the outcome will likely have significant implications for the future of transportation services involving minors.

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