In a compromise that allowed Uber and Lyft to operate in the city, Eugene City Council voted last year to let ride-share drivers receive conditional city licenses after only a background check conducted by the companies. Then, once the driver was on the streets, Eugene Police Department conducted more-stringent checks.
Recently, The Register-Guard investigated how that was working out. It found those more-stringent police checks weeded out criminals who slipped through cracks in the background investigations by Uber and Lyft — including a convicted murderer and a sex offender.
In all, about two dozen drivers — out of 1,800 city-certified drivers — have had their for-hire licenses revoked.
It’s a small percentage, but these cases show the city was right to insist on tougher background checks to guard the safety of ride-share customers, who should be able to ride confident in the knowledge that they aren’t getting in the car with a convicted murderer, registered sex offender or repeat drunken driver.
The ride-share companies conduct national checks searching for misdemeanor and felony convictions. The Eugene Police Department is more thorough. It checks for arrests and convictions in the past decade. It also looks for any open court cases involving the driver.
Uber and Lyft tried to get the Oregon Legislature to pass legislation prohibiting local governments from imposing more-stringent regulations than the state. That bill failed. Had it passed, Eugene and Springfield ride-share customers would be less safe because the state hasn’t moved quickly or far enough.
Ideally, the Legislature would adopt a statewide system similar to the one that has succeeded here. Until it does, we hope more local governments follow Eugene’s lead.
If anything, the rules could be a bit tougher. Eugene should consider requiring the local background check be conducted prior to issuing even a conditional for-hire license.
Allowing ride-share drivers to start work while the local background check is underway was part of the compromise that brought Uber back to the city. Rachelle Nicholas, Eugene’s inspection services manager, said the licenses for drivers who fail the background check are quickly revoked. ”[Ride-hailing companies] have been good about emailing us right back and letting us know [drivers] have been removed from the platform,” she said. “It’s pretty immediate.”
But the local background check can take up to 10 days. That’s 10 days a convicted murderer or registered sex offender could be working on the streets of Eugene and Springfield. That’s 10 days too long.
Nicholas said just the knowledge that they’ll be subjected to a local background check is a deterrent for bad actors. “If they know they’re going to go through an EPD background check, they’re less likely to come in and even ask for a license because they know they’re not going to pass,” she said.
Perhaps — but, clearly, some are willing to take the risk, especially after they’ve been cleared by the ride-share services background check.
We support ride-share services and believe they belong in Eugene. When Uber pulled out in 2015 in a dispute with the city, we urged the city to compromise to get them back and to allow Lyft in.
It didn’t make sense for Eugene-Springfield to be the only metropolitan area in Oregon without ride-share services. But we also said, “the rules can be revisited as necessary if experience proves that more or fewer regulations are needed” — and experience has proven that Eugene’s background checks are more comprehensive than those conducted by the ride-share companies.
Ride-share services offer valuable benefits to the community. They give residents and travelers — especially those without cars — more mobility. That’s especially helpful in a university town where many students don’t drive. Uber and Lyft help keep drunk drivers off the road by offering a way home to those who have over imbibed that is more convenient and often less expensive than taxis.
As the city gears up for the 2021 World Athletics Championship and the thousands of visitors it will attract, it must take every step to ensure those guests’ safety. That’s simply part of being a good host.
Nor should anyone discount the economic value of having the services. They provide drivers with the opportunity to supplement their incomes and, in some cases, even make a full-time wage.
When the pressure was hot, the city stood its ground and chose to lead, setting an example for the entire state.