By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
More than 8,200 drivers for Uber and Lyft failed a state background check to operate in Massachusetts after their applications were flagged for everything from license suspensions to sex offenses, according to data released Wednesday by the Baker administration.
The Department of Public Utilities completed its first round of background checks for ride-for-hire drivers under a law passed last session to regulate technology-based transportation companies like Uber and Lyft.
Under a law approved last summer, drivers for any app-based ride service have to go through a two-step background check process, including an initial check done by the company.
"Public safety is a top priority for this administration and we are pleased to have completed this first round of in-depth background checks a year ahead of schedule," Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.
Of 70,789 drivers who applied through one or more companies, the state denied 8,206 applications, or 13 percent. The reasons for the denials ranged from 1,640 rejected for having a suspended license to 78 habitual traffic offenders and 51 sex offenders.
The state listed "violent crimes" as the reason for denial on 958 applications; "sex abuse and exploitation" on 352 applications; and "operating under the influence" on 152 applications. Drivers may have been denied for more than one reason listed by the administration, and individual people may have been denied more than once if they applied through Uber and Lyft.
While the companies are required to perform multi-state criminal and driving background checks on all drivers, their look-backs only cover seven years of history. Drivers referred to the state for the second-tier check are subject to lifetime reviews of driving histories, violent felonies, and sex abuse conviction.
"The new screening includes an unfair and unjust indefinite look-back period that has caused thousands of people in Massachusetts to lose access to economic opportunities. We have a chance to repair the current system in the rules process so that people who deserve to work are not denied the opportunity," a spokeswoman for Uber said in a statement.
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he was "pleased" that the Baker administration expedited the completion of driver background checks after two "very disturbing criminal incidents" in his city last fall involving out-of-town Uber drivers.
DeMaria said he met with DPU officials in September after the incidents urging them to move forward with background checks as quickly as possible.
"Our primary responsibility as public officials is to protect the safety and well being of our residents. These statistics are showing that this new law is effective in ensuring that ride-sharing is safe for everyone. Ride-sharing is an important means of transportation for many residents and that is why I fought to have these new policies and procedures implemented as quickly as possible to better screen out drivers," DeMaria said in a statement.