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Uber to bolster driver background checks in Colorado, at a cost of $2.4 million annually, after state sanction

The change comes after the ride-sharing service is expected to settle an $8.9 million fine by the state for using drivers with criminal convictions

The Uber app displayed on a phone on October 1, 2018. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)
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Ride-sharing service Uber has agreed to increase the frequency of its criminal background checks of drivers in Colorado after state regulators discovered last year that the company failed to disqualify some drivers with felony criminal convictions.

The move is part of a settlement stemming from an $8.9 million fine levied by the state Public Utilities Commission in November. Uber, which also goes by the name Rasier, will not pay any of the original fine. Instead, it will spend about $2.4 million a year to do driver background checks annually, instead of every five years as the current law allows.

“These measures are agreed to and paid for by Rasier to attempt to provide an even greater level of safety and protection than that required by Colorado statute,” reads the proposed settlement, which goes before Administrative Law Judge Steven Denman on Oct. 29.

MORE: View the settlement.

Lawyers for the PUC declined to comment because the settlement is still pending, PUC spokesman Terry Bote said.

The increased background checks only affects Uber, not Lyft or other competitors, Bote confirmed.

On Tuesday, Uber shared a statement with The Colorado Sun, “We are committed to continuing to put safety at the heart of everything we do. We are proud to serve Colorado and will continue to invest in rider and driver-partner safety in the state and beyond.”

Uber said it had beefed up driver and passenger safety measures earlier this year, including rolling out annual criminal background checks for drivers in April nationwide.

“As part of that April announcement, we also revealed that we will go beyond annual background check reruns and are investing in technology that identifies new offenses,” said Uber spokeswoman Stephanie Sedlak, in an email.  “Using data sources that cover most new criminal offenses, we will receive notifications about new offenses and leverage this information to help continuously enforce our screening standards. We will investigate and verify any potentially disqualifying information from public records, such as a new and pending charge for a DUI, to ensure the driver is still eligible to use Uber.” 

The state fined Uber last fall after investigators discovered some of its drivers had moving violations, driver’s license issues or, in some cases, felony convictions that should have disqualified them from driving for Uber under state rules overseeing transportation network companies.

Uber contested the charges, calling the fines excessive. If one driver had a violation, fines would accrue daily until that driver was removed. In May, about half of the 3,570 violations were dismissed by PUC staff. The fine was reduced to about $4.5 million.

In the new agreement, Uber’s background check will be conducted by third-party provider Checkr. No fingerprinting will be used, but Uber also tapped a company called Appriss for safety data to assist with continuous background checks.

According to the settlement, the new background checks will include the following:

  • Prospective drivers must share their full name, date of birth, Social Security number and a copy of their driver’s license
  • The driver’s driving history
  • A criminal history check will include national, state and local databases, including the U.S. Department of Justice, National Sex Offender Public website, federal court records and “dozens of national and international watchlists used to flag suspected terrorists”
  • If the applicant has a criminal history, Checkr will send an individual to double check court records in person or electronically
  • The check will also include confirmed records under applicable laws, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act

Uber will also make tools available to keep drivers and passengers safe. This includes an emergency button in the driver’s and rider’s app to alert area 911 dispatchers.

In the Colorado settlement agreement, Uber also said it will anonymize a rider’s pick-up and drop-off spot in the trip records so the driver no longer has a recorded history.

To help cut down on any driver distraction, Uber is testing hands-free pickups, allowing drivers to use their voice to accept trips and communicate with passengers through the app.

This story was updated at 1:42 p.m. on Oct. 2, 2018 with  comments from Uber.

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