Ride-Share Service Fined $8.9M for Shady Drivers
You’ve been enjoying yourself at a holiday party but, because you know your limits and you’re responsible, you decide to let someone else drive. You pull out your smartphone, click on the Uber app, and within minutes, a stranger will be at the door to drive you home in his car.
Sure, the app tells you his name and the model and color of the car even before he arrives, but do you really know who’s got the wheel? Does Uber know? Maybe. Maybe not.
Colorado utility regulators slammed the big ride-sharing company with an $8.9 million fine on Nov. 20 for signing on 57 people with criminal or motor vehicle offenses to drive for the service, Tamara Chuang of The Denver Post reported. By comparison, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission found no violations by Uber’s arch-rival in ride-sharing, Lyft.
The drivers had issues such as felony convictions and citations for driving under the influence and reckless driving, The Post reported. Some drivers had revoked, canceled, or suspended driver’s licenses.
Denver’s KUSA TV reporter Allison Sylte obtained the commission’s detailed findings and reported that one driver was an habitual offender who once escaped from the state corrections department. The station shared the findings on its website.
Doug Dean, Public Utilities Commission director, said in a written statement:
“We have determined that Uber had background-check information that should have disqualified these drivers under the law, but they were allowed to drive anyway. … These actions put the safety of passengers in extreme jeopardy.”
For its part, Uber said it recently discovered an element in its procedures that was inconsistent with Colorado regulations and notified the utilities commission. The error affected only a small number of drivers. The company said it is taking corrective steps and submitting all of its (Colorado) drivers to background checks by an accredited screener.
Violent Incident Triggered Investigation
The commission started investigating in March when Vail police alerted officials about a violent incident involving an Uber driver, The Post reported. Police allege that the driver dragged a passenger out of the car and kicked him in the face.
It wasn’t the only incident of its kind. In July, an Uber driver pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace in Denver after he rolled his car over the leg of an airport parking attendant. In 2015, police arrested an Uber driver for trying to break into the home of a rider he had just dropped off at the airport.
A few months ago, the state agency requested from both companies the records of drivers accused, arrested, or convicted of offenses that might prevent them from driving under Colorado laws.
The law prohibits signing on drivers who have been convicted of a felony within five years and those who have ever been found guilty of serious felonies such as felony assault, fraud, sex crimes, or violent crimes.
Ride Service Knew of Some Problems
Uber produced at least 107 records and told the agency it had fired those drivers. Of those, 63 had driver’s license issues, but the agency focused on only 57, who had additional problems that would affect public safety. Many of those drivers were using aliases or had other, unreported violations in state criminal records.
Dean said the Public Utilities Commission had to threaten Uber with daily civil penalties to get the company to turn over its records. Moreover, investigators recently found that some of the disqualified drivers are still active in the Uber system.
Higher Standards for Colorado Taxi Drivers
Colorado taxi drivers, unlike ride-share drivers, have to undergo fingerprinting and background checks by the FBI and Colorado Bureau of Investigation.