NYS Exposed: Taxi drivers say Uber drivers should be fingerprinted, held to same standards

December 12, 2016 11:36 PM

Taxi drivers say, if Uber and other ride-sharing apps are approved in upstate, those drivers should be held to the same standards as cab drivers -- including fingerprinting, background checks and other regulations.

We take a look at the issue in our New York State Exposed series.

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"I've been driving on and off for 20 years," says Beyene Hagos, cab driver. He works for Park Avenue Taxi and he's acutely aware of the pressure on lawmakers to allow ride-sharing.

Hagos says before that should happen, there should be a level playing field. He points out that cabbies have to pay $550 dollars for a hack plate and thousands more for insurance. On top of that, they have to undergo background checks with Rochester police.

"The police department knows every cab driver," says Hagos. "We're finger-printed. They know the names, addresses, everything."

Uber says the taxi lobby is just trying to keep competition out of the market.

"We're not opposed to ride-sharing," says John Tomassi. "What we're opposed to is the lack of public safety."

Tomassi is president of the Upstate Transportation Association -- a coalition that represents taxi drivers in New York. We spoke with him via satellite and he says Uber is putting people at risk by not making drivers undergo fingerprint background checks.

"Right now in Rochester, if you want to be a taxicab driver, you go down to the police station," he says. "The police station does a fingerprint and background checks and then OKs you. It's a lot more detailed than simply checking a database, which Uber says they're doing."

Uber does background checks of its drivers but opposes fingerprinting. It says the added regulations are costly and slow.

Brett Davidsen: "How do you convince people that you folks are looking out for their interests and not your own self-interests?"

Tomassi: "Well, it's a little difficult to do because we almost start from the sense of like we're defending ourselves. But I think when we talk about the public safety issues, again, there's a supposition on the public's part that it's provided, in place. So we're trying to say it's not in place."

In Houston, Texas, police charged an Uber driver with sexual assault following an attack on a customer. He had passed Uber's background check, but it was later discovered he had served 14 years in federal prison for a drug conviction.

Houston now requires fingerprinting. With promises to re-visit ride-sharing this legislative session, it's not clear if state legislators will make fingerprinting a requirement. Hagos is hoping that if, and when, ride-sharing is finally allowed, there will only be one set of rules.

"What's good for Uber is good for us," he says. "So let's not do a double standard. Give City of Rochester cab drivers -- let's do the same for Park Avenue -- same as Uber."


Brett Davidsen

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