Friday, July 3, 2015

Uber & Lyft's Attacks on Fingerprinted Background Checks: Part One

Uber made the SF Examiner last week for being against fingerprinted criminal background checks. As usual the venture capitalized corporation (VCC) is being given too much credit. Its VCC rival, Lyft, is also against fingerprinting – maybe even more so than Uber.

In any case, the arguments that Uber & Lyft made against fingerprinting before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) hearings for regulating TNCs are almost identical.

I had intended to take part in the latest hearing but I wasn't able to do get my comments together in time. Instead I'll make my arguments here.

Since my favorite TNC attorney is Lyft's General Council Kristin Svercheck (Photo 2012 ), I'll mostly be using her reply comments for the CPUC proceeding (1) for my own comments.

Why Fingerprinting?

Fingerprinted background checks are considered to be the best practice by law enforcement agencies throughout the world including: the FBI, the NSA, the CIA, the US Department of Homeland Security and INTERPOL.

Why? From One Standard for All, “A fingerprint-based check is the only way to verify a person's identity and ensure that criminal records found (if any) are for the right person."

Why? From The History of Fingerprints"Fingerprints offer a reliable means of personal identification. That is the essential explanation for fingerprints having replaced other methods of establishing the identities of criminals reluctant to admit previous arrests."

Why? From an INTEERPOL forensic symposium,  "Since a person’s fingerprints are unique and do not change during the course of their life, they can be used to quickly and efficiently confirm or disprove a person’s identity ..."

The main exceptions to this are few rare diseases that affect only a few extended families word wide. The odds are over 3 million to one against a person having these diseases. 

The simple truth is that the best, quick way to know that a person is who they claim to be is fingerprinting.

Lyft's Arguments Against Fingerprinting

According to Councilor Svercheck

"Fingerprinting is not necessary to ensure public safety."

Just to clarify: What she is saying is that the technique that is considered the best way to identify people with criminal pasts – especially people convicted of sexual, violent or dangerous driving crimes –  by the FBI, INTERPOL et al is a waste of time.

If one is going to undermine or disprove a method that has been shown to be effective millions of times by the world's leading experts in identification, one would think that one would have to come up with very strong evidence. You know –  statistics, body count comparisons, etc. 

So what does Lyft give us?

"There is no evidence that ... current TNC background check requirements are not adequate and effective."

A double negative? This is the kind of argument used by attorneys on Law and Order when they are defending the Mafia.

Once again, it should be up to Svercheck to prove that TNC background checks are as effective a deterrent to crime as fingerprinting – not the other way around.

On the other hand, I never suspected the General Council of having sense of humor. I stand corrected for, when it comes to proving that Uber and Lyft's methods don't ensure public safety, the evidence is seemingly endless. It's hard even to know where to start?

Or, the City of Houston's investigation into Uber & Lyft's back ground checks by the FBI which found "several drivers with prior criminal histories including indecent exposure, DWI, prostitution, fraud, battery, assault, robbery and aggravated robbery?"

The investigation was started after an Uber driver who raped an intoxicated passenger was found to have spend 14 years in federal prison. "Houston said that the driver would never have passed its fingerprint-based background check conducted by the FBI."

Or, the Uber driver who exposed himself to a female passenger and was found to have numerous past crimes and traffic violations?

Unfortunately, I could go on and on.

Instead of fingerprinting, Lyft uses "privately administered background checks based on Social Security numbers."

Svercheck spends a lot of time explaining a complicated process but I don't feel the need to waste much ink listing her arguments. Instead,  here's a quick listing of the weakness of name and social security based checks from Mentor – a national mentoring partnership.
  • A person can provide a false name and social security number. Over 1% of the 45 million individuals in the FBI criminal database have used over 100 aliases and false Social Security numbers.
  • People can have two or more different last names if they have been married more than once. You can miss a criminal record if you only have one name.
  • Criminal databases can have mistakes in the spelling of person's name or other relevant information.
  • You can have "false positives" where a person appears to have a criminal record because of a crime committed by another individual.
Mentor goes on to say that "A fingerprint-based check is the only way to verify a person's identity..."

In addition, of course, we all know that that social security numbers are constantly being hacked and stolen in various ways. What I didn't know until today was that there are websites to help people create fake social security numbers and identities.

Finally, we have an Uber driver explaining how to get around background checks in ValleyWag,

“[Uber's] background check is done through a third party called Hirease. It consists of filling out your name, address, DL & SSN online. That's it. Every taxi company I worked for required drug screening and livescan fingerprinting at the local police department before being issued a taxi driver permit. … One person could fill out all the info and hand off the approved account to another person. You can't do that in the taxi world ….

I wonder if it would be possible for a person to file off his or her fingerprints and get job at Lyft? Judging by my own experience of applying to drive for Lyft I think so. One could wear gloves during the 3 minute personal interview. Si, no problema.

This is turning into a bigger project than I anticipated. Council Svercheck apparently thinks than an accumulation of bad arguments will somehow equal one good one. We shall see.

Next: Lyft Plays the Race Card 


June 8, 2015

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Uber Hypocrisy at SFMTA Meeting: or, the First Casualty of Venture Capital is truth

Speaking at the SFMTA hearing on the Vision Zero plan for a Safer Market Street, Mark Gruberg of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance spoke to the "hypocrisy of Uber" being in Sacramento claiming that they should be "exempt from commercial vehicle" registration at the same as they were in San Francisco wanting "the privileges" of commercial vehicles.

This seemed to become a moot point when both Uber and Lyft speakers later backed the plan.

However, their endorsement for a Safer Market Street really was yet another demonstration of their posturing and mendacity because they primarily gave their support for two reasons: they realized that they were not going to be allowed to use transit lanes in any case and it gave them a chance to undermine the taxi industry.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

SFMTA Nixes Uber/Lyft Red Lane Use

Taxi and TNC drivers packed room 400 at City Hall to give their opinions on the Vision Zero plan for a Safer Market Street. The goal of the plan is "to eliminate all traffic fatalities by 2024".

Uber drivers were there to demand access to the red transit lanes and the cab drivers came to stop this from happening.

However, early signs indicated that the members of SFMTA Board were predisposed in our favor. Director Malcolm Heinicke appeared to support taxicabs on another issue and Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin had signed off on a presentation to the CPUC calling for stricter regulation of TNCs. Perhaps most important, the SF Bicycle Coalition was in favor of the plan – they rarely lose political battles in this town.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why People Use Flywheel & Taxis Instead of Uber or Lyfts: Part II or No Small Print

In my last post, I left out one obvious reason why people are leaving Uber & Lyft for Flywheel and that is  price-gouging or "surge-pricing" as they euphemistically call it.

One former Uber customer who switched to Flywheel told me that he thought the so-called formulas that Uber uses to raise the prices are, "Bullshit! They just do it because they can," he said.

"You know," a businessman explained, "you just get used to doing something and you keep on doing it. Then, suddenly it gets to be too much ... One Friday night I went from the Marina to North Beach. When we got there, I learned that they'd charged me 3X. Three times the normal rate – almost $30 to go a mile and a half. That was it. It's taxis from now on."

But back to the businessman who said that taxi drivers have gotten better while TNC drivers have gotten worse.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why People Use Flywheel & Taxicabs Instead of Ubers or Lyfts

Customer response to the Flywheel taxicab app have been overwhelmingly positive. The number of people using the app grew 6X over the last year despite limited funds for advertising.

This fact has been ignored by all forms of media so I thought I'd write about it myself.

I've gotten most of my information from talking with over a hundred of my taxi and Flywheel customers. The following ideas and comments come from these ad hoc interviews.

A major reason why Flywheel is becoming more popular ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Uber & Other TNCs Continue to Illegally Cruise for Rides at SFO: MTA Shelves Plans to Limit Access of 8,000 & "S" Series Cabs at SFO

 Uber and other TNCs regularly wait at the curbs for five or ten minutes after dropping at SFO.

Others hide out with their marking taken off (in defiance of section 3.4 of the TNC Pilot Program) at deserted terminals and corners of the airport with their phones ready to accept rides.

Still others continually circle both drop-off and pick-up areas looking for rides with their apps open.

They are both a major cause of congestion and blockers of curbs –making it difficult for cabs, legal limos and the general public to drop off and pick up their customers or friends.

These poorly insured, uninspected vehicles with their unvetted and untrained drivers are the ones that are causing the congestion at SFO: not the vetted, trained and experienced drivers of fully insured taxicabs that have been inspected by the San Francisco Airport itself.

The TNCs remain the only form of mass transportation that trick their customers into signing a hidden waiver of liability in case of negligence before allowing them to ride.

At today's MTA meeting Director Heinicke said that the plans to hold 8,000 and "S" series taxis out of SFO had been shelved.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Kansas City Major Sly James' Speech Dissing Uber's Innovative Negligence

Hi I'm back to pass on words spoken or written by others – starting with a powerful speech by Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

On Thursday, April 9, 2015, the KCMO City Council unanimously approved an updated "Vehicles for Hire" code (Ordinance 150203) that lowers fees for drivers and streamlines permitting. It also requires all such drivers to have back-ground checks and register with the city.

Uber apparently tried to destroy Mayor James' career for opposing them. We could use an honest politician with guts like his here. 

Below are links to a few articles on the absurdly named "Sharing Economy" which is really "Wealth Inequality"  and a well researched and thoughtful piece on Uber's attempt to replace the Taxi Business .

As a bonus here are a few more Videos:

Who is driving you?

FUNNY OR DIE gives you An Apology from Uber

And, let me end with this question: How unreal was the humor?