The popular ride-sharing app Uber recently celebrated its one-year anniversary in Connecticut and claims that 83 percent of people statewide now have access to the mobile-friendly car service.
However, questions surrounding Uber’s background check policy still linger amid assault and robbery allegations in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, where Uber has operated for years.
In 2014, NBC Los Angeles found loopholes in how the company screens some of its UberX drivers. They, and a woman with a 20-year rap sheet, tested to see if Uber would accept a convicted felon.
She passed, and said someone could be victimized by ex-cons like herself.
"I would pick somebody up, take them to the airport and my second thought would be to go back to that house and see what’s in there," she said.
She never actually drove any Uber customers, and Uber says it has since increased its auditing and adjusted its judgment process to ensure consistency and accuracy.
Still, lawmakers here in Connecticut have similar concerns.
"It took me about 30 minutes to get through an application and I actually intentionally wrote wrong answers to see if it got picked up," said Rep. Sean Scanlon, who says he lied about most of his contact information. "And four days later, I actually got an email saying I was good to go as a driver."
Uber Connecticut’s general manager, Matt Powers, says Uber checks its drivers through a third-party company called Hirease. Hirease says it looks at county, state and federal records going back seven years.
"I mean, there could be manipulation that does occur," said Powers. "We are confident, though, that our background checks are secure and they’re effective."
In comparison, most of the transportation industry – including taxi companies – use fingerprinted data through the Federal Bureau of Investigations to vet drivers and pilots.
Neither process claims a 100-percent guarantee. Assaults and theft have happened in taxis, too.
Power says that Uber actually adds a higher level of safety by allowing its riders to share their ETA, which lets friends follow the ride's progress.
"So that’s where transparency’s really helpful," said Powers. "That provides this reliable service that residents of Connecticut really haven’t seen before."
Since Connecticut does not regulate ride-sharing companies like Uber, Scanlon says he wants to level the playing field by making them follow the same rules as taxis. He and his colleagues wrote a bill that would enforce regulations on insurance and background checks.
But the language in the proposed regulations allows Uber to choose between a nationally accredited background check agency like Hirease and the FBI fingerprints.
"I think it’s a good start, but we have more work to do," said Scanlon. "I would like to see tougher background checks for people to make sure that the people we entrust with public transit are safe to be in a car with."
Scanlon’s bill is undergoing negotiations and awaits a vote in the house. The Connecticut General Assembly held a public hearing for it in March.