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Muth: Uber, Lyft FBI background checks worthy of discussion even for free-marketers

I supported legalizing “ride-sharing” in Nevada during last year’s legislative session despite concerns raised about safety and insurance. My position was that if a private citizen wishes to join a private ride-sharing club like Uber or Lyft and freely assumes all the risks associated with using the service, that’s their choice.

But if those Uber drivers are picking up fares from the general public who do not belong to the ride-sharing network club, well, that’s another thing altogether. And according to a recent story in the Las Vegas Sun, that’s exactly what’s been happening.

“In February,” reporter Daniel Rothberg wrote, “taxicab giant Bell Transportation hired a private investigator who identified several illegal off-platform Uber and Lyft rides – where drivers were paid cash rather than through the app – during a convention.”

That’s a big problem, even though Uber and Lyft don’t condone such behavior.

Nevertheless, it is occurring and lends credence to complaints that ride-sharing operators aren’t subjected to the same stringent FBI background checks as taxi drivers even though some of those drivers are picking up people off the street.

Rothberg reports that Uber and Lyft oppose having their drivers undergo the same FBI background checks as are required for taxi drivers because they “are typically more costly and often take months longer to process.”

Nevertheless, Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford is expected to propose FBI background check legislation next session and Assemblyman Derek Armstrong has already voiced his opposition.

“Since the law has been enacted,” Armstrong told Rothberg, “we haven’t seen any public safety concerns that would lead me to believe it is as rife as he (Ford) believes it to be.”

Maybe he should check out www.WhosDrivingYou.org.

The website chronicles all manner of “incidents involving ‘ridesharing’ passengers being harmed and criminal offenders behind the wheel.” The incident categories include Deaths, Assaults, Sexual Assaults, Kidnappings, Felons, Imposters and Driver DUIs.

Again, if Uber drivers are only transporting Uber club members who are willing to take the risk, that’s one thing. But the very fact that some rogue ride-sharing drivers are providing a public conveyance, that’s another thing.

In addition, while it’s one thing for the Uber member to be willing to take the risk, it’s another thing for pedestrians and other motorists who haven’t agreed to that risk to be put at risk. And indeed there are multiple examples of Uber and Lyft drivers hitting pedestrians and other cars, sometimes resulting in death.

That public safety aspect of the issue is something I hadn’t fully considered last session.

I don’t know if requiring the same FBI background checks for ride-sharing drivers is the right thing to do or not. But I do know it’s a topic worthy of further discussion in the next legislative session and folks such as Mr. Armstrong (if he’s re-elected) should encourage such a debate, not try to shut it down.

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach and publisher of NevadaNewsandViews.com

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