New Ridesharing Service Takes Aim at Uber and Lyft with Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 11/24/2014

One of the biggest criticisms for ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft is that their driver background checks are not comprehensive enough to keep passengers safe. This claim has been levied especially by taxicab companies, which are losing business thanks to the competition of these new services. Now a new ridesharing service called Flywheel has arrived and, surprisingly, they're siding with the taxi companies on the background check argument.

According to a report from CNN Money, Flywheel currently only operates in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, but is hoping to expand beyond the west coast. In that case, the firm is seeking to compete directly with Uber and Lyft, which have expanded significantly throughout 2014. Uber is probably the leader in this industry at the moment, but Flywheel thinks the firm is vulnerable, thanks in part to a recent smattering of bad press.

A big part of Uber's negative PR has been the background check issue. There have been numerous news stories of Uber passengers who were assaulted or raped by their drivers, as well as a January case where an Uber driver hit and killed a six-year-old girl with his car. All of these cases have called Uber's background check policies into question. Are they in-depth enough? What do they entail? Is Uber screening its drivers at all? All of these questions have been asked.

Add the fact that taxi firms have been protesting unfair treatment, since Uber and Lyft are not beholden to the same laws and background check expectations as other transportation services, and Uber and Lyft are clearly not looking good in the news lately.

Flywheel wants to take advantage of that fact to expand its operations. The new ridesharing company is using background checks as a means of making that goal a reality. According to a source interviewed in the CNN Money article, Flywheel only hires licensed taxi drivers. If that's true, it would eliminate the common complaint about Uber and Lyft, which is that anyone with a car and a smartphone can become a driver. Since licensed cabdrivers have to go through in-depth background checks to obtain their licenses, Flywheel could potentially offer the best of both worlds here: the convenience of Uber and Lyft, and the safety and peace of mind of cab services.

It isn't clear whether Flywheel runs additional background checks on the drivers it hires. Since cab drivers have to go through city agencies to get licensed, the drivers the company would supposedly be hiring should have already undergone a screening process. However, it would be good for Flywheel's public reputation to do background checks of its own, as well. That way, the company could look like it was being truly vigilant about making sure its drivers are safe and trustworthy people.

Supposedly, Uber and Lyft both do run in-house background checks. CNN's source at Flywheel, though, claims that those checks are nowhere near as comprehensive as the ones run by taxi driver licensing departments.


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