Boston police begin fingerprinting cab drivers

Fingerprint background checks have emerged as a key issue in the debate over services like Uber and Lyft.

–The Boston Globe

The Boston Police Department announced Monday that it has begun fingerprinting all of the licensed cab drivers in the city as a background check measure.

Fingerprinting has been a flashpoint in the debate over how to best regulate taxi competitor services like Uber and Lyft, an issue Massachusetts lawmakers are expected to take up this year. Uber and Lyft say their drivers should not be fingerprinted because they already conduct third-party background checks.

Uber has criticized fingerprinting as potentially discriminatory against applicants who were arrested but not convicted. Critics contend Uber and Lyft’s true concern is that fingerprinting slows the process of getting new drivers on the road.

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The companies opposed a bill written last year that would have required fingerprinting for all drivers. Uber has fought similar initiatives across the country.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans testified in support of fingerprinting at a State House hearing on the issue last September. He acknowledged at the time that cab drivers were not fingerprinted in the city, but said a taxi fingerprinting system would begin soon.

Representatives of the taxi and livery industries, who have called for fingerprinting Uber and Lyft drivers, have said they would welcome fingerprinting for their own drivers. Now, in Boston at least, they’ll get it.

On Monday, Evans said in a statement posted on BPD’s blog that fingerprinting cab drivers would increase passenger safety.

“When the citizens of Boston get into cab (sic), they trust that operator to get them to their destination safely every single time,’’ he said. “Fingerprinting is another step we can take as a police department to help make sure that happens.’’

Cab drivers will be required to submit to fingerprinting as part of an annual license renewal process, according to the department.

Evans’s predecessor as commissioner, Ed Davis, is now a consultant for Uber and has spoken on behalf of the company’s existing background check process.

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Uber and Lyft instead supported another bill seeking to regulate the services last year. Proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker, the bill included a state background check but not fingerprinting. Baker administration officials said at the hearing that the proposed law would not preclude any individual city or town from instituting their own fingerprinting system on top of the statewide requirements.

Lawmakers are expected to unveil a new bill related to services like Uber and Lyft soon. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said last month the bill would come at some point in February.

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