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Uber’s New York State Expansion Held Up By Fingerprinting

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are popular across the country, but they’re nowhere to be found in upstate cities like Buffalo and Rochester. While there’s been a lot of buzz about such services coming to the area, it looks like Upstate New York residents may have to wait a little longer for the convenience of ride-sharing.

The main hold-up for Uber’s expansion? The debate over fingerprinting. Namely, whether or not the independently contracted drivers for these services should be subjected to the same fingerprinting policies found throughout New York City. Many drivers throughout the state are fingerprinted, and proponents of the measure say that it’s an effective and inexpensive way to protect the general public from potentially dangerous criminals.

Approximately 68 million people living in the U.S. have a criminal record, and New York State wants to protect passengers from getting into cars driven by former criminals without their knowledge. However, Uber is pushing back on the policy, citing that it could potentially hurt drivers who had merely been arrested and released without ever being charged or convicted of a crime.

But taxi drivers in cities as close as Syracuse have to undergo fingerprint checks. They also have to submit to a driving history review. President of Syracuse Regional Taxi, Mark Ilacqua, doesn’t understand why Uber is so resistant to a possible regulation that could protect the public.

However, unlike most cab companies, Uber is not responsible for the vehicles their drivers use. In addition, most taxi drivers are considered to be employees, while Uber drivers fall under the independent contractor category. While countless people use their services, Uber doesn’t have the greatest track record of taking responsibility for their drivers’ shortcomings. Much like with other popular apps such as Airbnb, users book at their own risk.

Currently, state law doesn’t permit Uber to operate outside of New York City. Although there are those who want Uber to follow the same regulations as other taxi companies do, there are numerous anti-drunk driving advocacy organizations and restaurant owners who want the expansion to happen no matter what. Drunk driving accidents cost more than $37 billion every year, and more than 10,000 people were killed in drunk driving accidents in 2012 alone. Having access to a ride-sharing service would be much better for business and could lead to a significant decrease in DUIs and accidents involving alcohol.

Now that lawmakers have returned to Albany for the 2017 session, Uber’s proposed expansion is expected to get underway shortly. As of now, they’ll be pushing back against the idea of including a fingerprint requirement.

While this may allow residents in New York State to benefit more quickly, it fails to address the potential safety risk to the public. Ilacqua stresses the importance of these regulations and why Uber should follow them:

“Don’t wait for a college student to be sexually assaulted. New York City has been fingerprinting drivers for years. All we’re saying is, if you’re going to move into upstate, follow the same rules.”

But in a recent letter to Governor Cuomo from a large coalition in favor of the expansion, the other side notes, “simply put, we must join the 21st century.”

Now, lawmakers will have to weigh whether technological dependence, convenience, and access to alternate forms of transportation will outweigh a potential threat to public safety.