In Colorado, Uber has allowed drivers to work despite having disqualifying past criminal convictions or motor vehicle violations. As a result, regulators in the state fined the company $8.9 million, according to a Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) press release.
Over the last year and a half, 57 disqualified Colorado drivers worked for Uber, according to PUC investigators. Fines reached the $8.9 million mark with the agency charging $2,500 for each day an unqualified driver had worked.
“PUC staff found that Uber allowed individuals to drive with previous felony convictions, major moving violations (DUI, DWI, reckless driving, driving under restraint), and numerous instances of individuals driving with suspended, revoked or cancelled driver’s licenses,” PUC officials wrote in the press release. It’s illegal for drivers with these types of offenses to work for a Transportation Network Company (TNC) like Uber in Colorado.
When Uber came to Colorado in 2014, officials for the service assured the state they would conduct their own background checks. However, Colorado state officials are now finding these checks ineffective.
“They said their private background checks were superior to anything out there,” PUC Director, Doug Dean said. “We can tell you their private background checks were not superior. In some cases, we could not say they even provided a background check.”
The investigation began after the Vail, Colorado police department charged an Uber driver with second-degree assault in March. The driver allegedly attacked intoxicated passengers who would not exit his vehicle.
Investigators looking into the incident found that Uber’s background checks had missed many past convictions, driver aliases, and even one driver who had escaped from prison in the past. Opposing rideshare service Lyft was also investigated, though the PUC found no violations.
“Uber can fix this tomorrow. The law allows them to have fingerprint background checks. We had found a number of a.k.a.’s and aliases that these drivers were using. That’s the problem with name-based background checks,” said Dean. “We’re very concerned and we hope the company will take steps to correct this.”
The Colorado PUC gave Uber 10 days to decide whether to pay 50% of the fine, or to request a hearing. On November 30, Uber made the trial request with the PUC to fight the fine. (A future court date is being worked out—Uber currently has other court appearances to attend to.)
“We will continue to work closely with the CPUC on a resolution through the administrative process,” said an Uber spokesperson after the ridesharing service requested the trial.
Uber has had similar background check disputes in Chicago, Houston, and Maryland, and threatened to leave these locations as a result of quarrels regarding private background checks versus state-issued fingerprint checks.
At the time, these areas folded to Uber when the company threatened to leave. However, some cities like London have opted to ban Uber altogether over driver concerns—whether its U.S. locales will follow suit is still to be seen.