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Friday 9 December 2016

Atlanta airport aims to check Uber drivers' fingerprints

Published 27/03/2016 | 19:11

An Atlanta Police rides-for-hire enforcement vehicle sits amid taxi cabs outside the departures area of the domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (AP)
An Atlanta Police rides-for-hire enforcement vehicle sits amid taxi cabs outside the departures area of the domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (AP)

A battle over background checks for Uber drivers at the world's busiest airport comes as cities like Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, consider more thorough screenings to prevent criminals from getting behind the wheel.

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Uber has objected to the Atlanta airport's plan to use fingerprints to check the criminal records of its drivers, saying its own record checks are sufficient.

But the district attorney in Uber's hometown of San Francisco has called the ride-booking firm's process "completely worthless" since drivers are not fingerprinted.

In Houston, city officials say they found that background checks without fingerprints allow criminals who have been charged with murder, sexual assault and other crimes to evade detection in a variety of ways.

Atlanta's city council is set to consider the airport's plan for screening drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-booking firms when proposed new rules go before the council's transportation committee.

Uber has agreements with more than 50 US airports, none of which require the fingerprint-based background checks being proposed by Atlanta' s airport, the company said in a statement.

Those airports include major air hubs in Denver; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

But New York City does fingerprint drivers, and the mayor of Los Angeles this month asked state regulators to allow his city to do so as well.

Houston, the fourth-largest US city, was among the first in the nation to require drivers for Uber and other ride-booking firms to undergo fingerprint-based background checks using the FBI's database.

Houston's programme began in November 2014, and city officials there say they are far more thorough than any other way of checking someone's criminal past.

"Public safety is our number one priority - that's something the city of Houston does not compromise on," said Lara Cottingham, Houston's deputy assistant director of administration and regulatory affairs.

"That's the reason we license any vehicle for hire."

Since Houston's ordinance went into effect, the city's fingerprint-based FBI background checks have found driver applicants who have been charged with murder, sexual assault, robbery and indecent exposure, among other crimes. Those drivers had already cleared the commercial background checks used by ride-for-hire companies, according to a city report released this month.

Potential drivers can pass background checks that don't rely on fingerprints simply by using an alias, the report found. For instance, one driver cleared by a company that does background checks for Uber underwent Houston's fingerprint check, which turned up 24 alias names, 10 listed social security numbers and an active arrest warrant, the report states.

"The FBI provides the only true nationwide check," the report states.

Uber maintains that Atlanta's plan would add "substantial, additional bureaucratic barriers for drivers," company spokesman Bill Gibbons said.

Atlanta would use the Georgia Department of Driver Services to help check the backgrounds of potential drivers, though specific details of how drivers would be screened haven't been released.

The ride-booking firm Lyft also says Atlanta's proposal would prove difficult.

"While the Hartsfield-Jackson staff has recognized the benefits Lyft provides, the current plan as proposed will make it extremely difficult for Lyft to operate," Lyft said.

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