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Beale renews push for fingerprinting after Lyft security breakdown

a driver displaying Lyft and Uber stickers

AP file photo

Emboldened by an embarrassing security oversight at Lyft, an influential alderman on Friday renewed his push to require ride-hailing drivers to be fingerprinted.

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno has demanded that Lyft replace its background checker, review all 27,000 of its drivers and conduct random audits with results shared with the city after acknowledging that one of its drivers had a federal conviction for aiding terrorism.

That’s not good enough for Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee.

With Escareno on the hot seat Friday at City Council budget hearings, Beale vowed to resurrect the stalled fingerprinting requirement, despite a threat by Uber and Lyft to abandon the Chicago market.

Uber and Lyft have long maintained a background check based on FBI fingerprinting would discriminate against minorities who are “far more likely to have an interaction with the criminal justice system” — and often for minor, nonviolent offenses where the charges are dropped but the record has not been expunged.

“With this person driving [after being convicted for] funneling money to terrorists groups, I don’t think the public was safe with this guy driving people around. For him to be on the platform was a disservice to the people of this city,” Beale said.

“If we were fingerprinting, this person would have gotten flagged. I don’t think it would have slipped through the cracks. Police have also stated that fingerprinting is the one-all, be-all way of making sure of a person’s identity.”

Beale then pressed Escareno on the status of a long-stalled study on the fingerprinting requirement.

The commissioner said the University of Illinois at Chicago study was “in the conclusion stages.” But she has asked UIC to take a little bit longer, in light of the “completely unacceptable” mistake made by Lyft.

“With the recent incident, what I wanted to do—and the co-chairs decided would be important—is that they actually use this scenario and build it into their study,” she said.

“It may take just a little bit longer, but I think it’s important. It was the first time we confronted this situation.”

Beale then tried to get Escareno to commit to implement a fingerprinting requirement for Uber, Lyft and Via drivers, if the study recommends it.

The commissioner was non-committal.

“It would be important to look at the conclusion of the study before we can make any determination,” she said.

Beale reiterated that he remains open to new technologies that, Uber and Lyft have argued, could be used to screen drivers without fingerprinting. But he hasn’t seen it.

“I’m still waiting for them to fly their people in,” he said.

Escareno also acknowledged that she’s working on a package of reforms aimed saving a taxicab industry fighting for survival in the Uber era — an industry that Beale has championed in the City Council.

“We need to look at the entire industry from beginning to end. We’re losing so much revenue across the board,” he said.