Hundreds of Uber, Lyft drivers successfully appeal license denials

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BOSTON — Hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers who failed state background checks have now successfully appealed their denials, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday.

Earlier this month, the Baker administration released the results of the first round of state background checks required for ride-for-hire drivers under a law passed last summer. Of 70,789 drivers who applied through one or more companies, the state denied 8,206 applications.

Rejected drivers are allowed to appeal the decision in certain instances, and Baker said in an interview on WGBH Radio that 400 to 500 people who filed appeals had won them. The new Transportation Network Company Division within the Department of Public Utilities is processing the appeals in seven to 10 days, Baker said.

As of Thursday, 455 of 1,472 appeals had been approved, according to a spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which oversees the DPU.

The denials included 1,640 applications rejected for suspended licenses, 958 listed as "violent crimes," 352 for sex abuse and exploitation, 152 for operating under the influence, 78 habitual traffic offenders and 51 traffic offenders, according to the DPU.

Baker disputed co-host Margery Eagan's characterization that there were drivers who were denied over "a speeding ticket from 20 years ago."

"No one lost their job over a parking ticket," Baker said. "Nobody lost their job over a lot of the things that we've been accused of having lost their jobs over, but the simple truth is there were hundreds of people who were driving for Uber and Lyft who didn't have driver's licenses that were in force, OK. There were many more than 100 who had serious felony convictions. There were many who had other major crimes that I don't think anybody would want their son or daughter getting in the car to have somebody drive."

Rejected drivers appealing the state's decision must contact the TNC division with their identification and reason for appeal, and are then assigned a hearing date. The division says it will deny appeals if they are "based on a dispute regarding the accuracy of the information contained in your Criminal Offender Record Information" because those claims are outside its jurisdiction. Appeals can also be denied without a hearing for "automatic disqualifying conditions," including sex-offender registration and felony convictions.

Baker in August signed a law regulating app-based ride-for-hire companies, and in November the administration announced agreements with Uber and Lyft allowing the state background checks for those companies' drivers to begin earlier than the timeline established under the new law.

The state screening is a new feature under the law, and the companies had already been conducting their own background checks.

Baker said the administration will now go through a "traditional" regulation-setting process, with final regulations set to be released this fall after a public comment period and hearing.

"People will have the opportunity to comment on those," Baker said. "The Lyft people can comment, the Uber people can comment, other people can comment."

Draft regulations released in late March include the requirement for a company and state background check, and a requirement that the ride-for-hire company's screening include a nationwide review of criminal records, motor vehicle records and the U.S. Department of Justice's national sex offender public website. Companies would need to conduct their background check at least every six months and immediately suspend or terminate a driver arrested for disqualifying offenses.

A public hearing on the regulations is scheduled for Tuesday, May 23 at 10 a.m. at the Transportation Building at 10 Park Plaza, and written comments will be accepted until the close of business on May 9.

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