San Jose Mercury News
by Orson Aguilar
As ridesharing services provided by transportation network companies expand and California sorts out how to regulate this new industry, we must ensure that all communities have access to the economic and transportation opportunities being created. Well-intentioned efforts to promote safety must not backfire and hurt the very communities we need to help.
Many communities have been long underserved by other transportation options, and ridesharing can be a helpful option. It’s clear that many from communities of color find driving for ridesharing companies a useful way to earn extra income.
The Greenlining Institute is working with one of these companies — Lyft — to enable underserved communities to fully participate. Half of Lyft’s drivers self-identify as a member of a minority group, and Lyft has undertaken office hiring and sourcing commitments that establish it as a leader on inclusiveness. More work remains, but this is a significant start.
Unfortunately, some political leaders — including San Jose’s mayor and city council — have promoted outdated requirements that could make it harder for communities of color to take advantage of these new transportation technologies. Proposals like mandatory fingerprinting would contribute little to public safety and disproportionately burden Californians of color.
We like to think of fingerprinting as a gateway to precise, accurate information, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. State criminal record databases are frequently incomplete or inaccurate.
For example, California only records the disposition of 57 percent of arrests and 42 percent of felony charges. So if you are charged with a felony and acquitted, there’s a 58 percent chance that your record will not show you were found innocent. A 2013 National Employment Law Project report estimated that these sorts of errors and omissions affect 600,000 workers each year. It can be expensive and take several months or longer to get mistakes cleared off your record, disproportionately burdening low-income applicants.
While flawed criminal records affect all, the impact falls especially harshly on communities of color, where much larger percentages of workers have had interactions with the criminal justice system. Importantly, this has no connection with rates of actual criminal behavior.
For example, the U.S. Justice Department found that African Americans and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. And while different racial and ethnic groups use illicit drugs at about the same rates, people of color are far more likely to be arrested.
We can weed out truly dangerous people without putting whole communities at an unfair disadvantage. Ridesharing companies already require prospective drivers to undergo rigorous background checks, in-person screenings and vehicle inspections. Companies performing those checks are highly regulated at both the federal and state levels and must act reasonably to assure the “maximum possible accuracy” of the information they provide to employers, using a variety of identifiers including Social Security numbers, dates of birth and past addresses. Use of fingerprints for background checks does not assure accuracy as reporting is irregular across different counties and states.
Fingerprinting requirements all too often impose disproportionate costs on those of modest means and discourage part-time drivers from participating, undermining the income opportunities and new transportation options that ridesharing presents.
Everyone wants strong safety requirements, but those rules must not create needless barriers for hard-working people.
States like California are leading the way to dismantle laws that created the prison industrial complex. Our new economy should welcome individuals who want to work.
Orson Aguilar is executive director of The Greenlining Institute, greenlining.org. He wrote this for this newspaper.