Massachusetts's Rideshare Background Check System Fails 15% of Applicants

By Michael Klazema on 2/21/2019

For some time after the emergence of Uber and Lyft in the transportation industry, ridesharing apps operated in a Wild West of minimal restrictions and little oversight. After a series of incidents, some fatal, involving ridesharing drivers, many states took up the mantle of regulation by adding mandatory background checks. While both Uber and Lyft formulated internal policies which they maintain are thorough and safe, some states, including Massachusetts, have gone further to protect passengers.

Massachusetts relies on a two-step vetting program for ridesharing applicants. First, a rideshare company conducts an internal background check on every applicant to examine records nationwide. Those who pass must then undergo a state-level background check, similar to those produced by, but in this case, conducted by the state. Only drivers who pass both checks receive permission to accept fares through an app. 

In the past year, more than 200,000 drivers applied in Massachusetts. Of those, 30,000 were rejected by the state. 

Five thousand individuals were disqualified due to past violent criminal charges, and nearly 1000 were rejected for appearing on a sex offender registry. On the upside, 190,000 people received clearance to work. State officials tout this as proof that the system works and that it is helping to prevent members of the public from stepping into a car operated by a dangerous individual.

The two-step process highlights some potential deficiencies in Uber and Lyft's own programs. According to the Daily News of Newburyport, Lyft noted that some of its approved drivers were rejected because its vendor's reports only return about seven years’ worth of data. The state's system has no such time limit. 

Uber also pointed out that it was possible for criminal charges to appear on a person's record in between the two steps of Massachusetts’s process. In either scenario, the secondary state check acts as an important failsafe. 

As the current system churns through tens of thousands of applicants a year, some in the Massachusetts legislature have expressed their interest in making further tweaks to the system. Some believe the system does not go far enough; others want lighter restrictions. One bill would remove felony fraud from the list of disqualifying offenses, while another would require prospective drivers to submit fingerprints to the state. Those bills are pending. 

Ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft, considered a part of the gig economy, represent the growing trend in many companies towards relying on a workforce of independent contractors instead of regular employees. This shift can pose a challenge for any business concerned about safe hiring practices. makes a robust contractor and vendor screening tool available, including a multi-jurisdictional criminal record search customizable to include additional reports. 

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