While many other parts of the country ponder whether or not ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft have thorough enough background checks, officials in Lawrence, Kansas are mulling an ordinance that would require criminal background checks for a similar group: taxi drivers. Most cities with taxi services already require drivers to submit to criminal background screenings. Usually, these checks are just one step that drivers must take in order to become licensed to operate a cab. Surprisingly, though, Lawrence, the sixth biggest city in Kansa, has never required these types of criminal checks for drivers in the past.
The new ordinance, currently under consideration by the Lawrence City Council, would change all of that. The new policy would require every cab driver to submit to a background check during the licensing process. Certain crimes, including any type of felony, any instance of suspended license, and any conviction for driving under the influence, would automatically disqualify a driver's application for a license. The checks would also take a look at outstanding warrants, and deny any applicant currently facing one.
An ordinance such as this is a long time coming for a city like Lawrence. Taxi drivers are entrusted with the safety and wellbeing of their customers every single day. Therefore, a driver with a DUI or two on their record, or one convicted of rape or other sexually related offenses, poses an obvious threat to passengers. Background checks at the licensing stage help to neutralize those threats and keep dangerous or untrustworthy people from ever becoming cab drivers. Without a policy like that in place, there is essentially no filter to make sure that predators, drunk drivers, and other dangerous individuals are kept out of the public transportation industry.
Even if Lawrence's existing cab driver policy is lacking, it's at least fortunate that it wasn't a specific cab driver incident that caused the City Council to consider this ordinance. Indeed, there have as of yet been no reported incidents in the city of a cab driver threatening, hurting, or killing a passenger. Rather, this particular ordinance is on the table because two cab companies in the city, Ground Transportation Services and Jayhawk Taxi, asked the city to take a critical look at licensing processes.
These two companies may have ulterior motives in asking the city to investigate licensing policies: both are concerned about the number of independent cab drivers who are getting licenses in the city. Even if GTS and Jayhawk have something to gain from Lawrence tightening the cab driver licensing process, though, their request could still function to make the city's public transportation a bit safer. In addition to considering background checks for all drivers, the city council is also thinking about raising the insurance benchmarks that cabs in the city are expected to meet.