By Ned McCormack, Communications Director, County of Westchester
Jul. 5, 2017: Joined by executives from Lyft and Uber, County Executive Robert P. Astorino announced an innovative solution to allow ride-sharing companies to operate in Westchester while increasing rider safety by creating a voluntary pool of fingerprinted drivers from which companies like Lyft, Uber, and others could hire.
New state regulations, which went into effect last Thursday, contain a major flaw that put the safety of Westchester residents at risk because they do not require ride-sharing drivers outside of New York City to be fingerprinted. Working with Lyft and Uber, Astorino developed a plan that will enable Westchester residents to know whether their ride-sharing driver’s background screening includes a fingerprint check.
“Our goal was to find the right balance between safety and convenience,” said Astorino. “Ride-sharing companies provide the public with an important transportation option. But if that convenient ride is not safe, it’s not really an option at all.”
The new program, the first of its kind in the country, is called “Thumbs Up.” Participating drivers whose fingerprints show they have no criminal record will be issued a “Thumbs Up” decal by the county to be posted on their windshield to alert customers that their driver has undergone this critical level of screening.
While no screening can be 100 percent foolproof, law enforcement officials say fingerprinting provides the best safeguards. Not only does fingerprinting offer access to the best databases of criminal activity, but those databases are constantly being updated. This means law enforcement can be alerted to criminal activity that occurs after a driver is hired, not just before.
“Ride-sharing is not supposed to be hitchhiking with an app,” said Astorino. “The public has the right to know that the driver picking them up has been fully screened for a criminal record. The ‘Thumbs Up’ sticker in the windshield will tell riders that their driver has gone through the most complete background check. That’s a level of protection Westchester riders deserve.”
Lyft and Uber said they will encourage their drivers in Westchester to participate in the program and thanked County Executive Astorino and his team for bringing ride-sharing to Westchester.
"The agreement with County Executive Astorino and the Westchester County Legislature ensures that residents and visitors will have access to safe, affordable transportation options,” said Sarfraz Maredia, general manager of Uber Tri-State. "By working with Uber to bring the benefits of ride-sharing to Westchester, county leaders recognize the importance of technology and innovation in their community."
In addition to supporting the "Thumbs Up" program, Lyft and Uber said they would make their technology available to the county to help with traffic management and would work with the county on potential revenue opportunities at county facilities such as the Westchester County Airport.
Here’s how the “Thumbs Up” program works: Interested drivers can go to the county’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to be fingerprinted for $90. Within 48-72 hours, the results of the background check will be returned and entered into a database of fingerprinted drivers. Drivers who pass the check will be issued a “Thumbs Up” certificate and decal for their window. In August, drivers can go to Morpho Trust, a New York State-authorized fingerprinting service, and have a report run for $102. The results will be sent to the TLC. The county will receive a $15 administration fee for each check it administers.
The efforts to balance safety and convenience also have the bi-partisan support of board of legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz.
“I appreciate the county executive’s compromise to create a pool of properly vetted ride-share drivers in Westchester County,” said Kaplowitz. “New York State has passed a terribly flawed TNC bill that compromises the safety of Westchester County residents and puts the county legislature in an untenable situation. It is also clear that the residents of Westchester County want to have Uber and Lyft operating in Westchester and the county executive’s plan to place decals on the cars of drivers who have submitted to and passed criminal background checks with fingerprinting is in my opinion the best scenario that could be reached with Uber and Lyft at this time.”
For years, companies such as Uber and Lyft have lobbied the state to allow for ride-sharing throughout New York. The state’s new ride-sharing law stipulates that the department of motor vehicles has oversight over ride-sharing services, as opposed to local governments, which have oversight over taxicabs and limousines.
Under the law, Westchester County can opt out of the state law at any time. To help ensure the smooth operation of the law, Lyft and Uber have agreed to work with the county and participate in regular oversight meetings.
The county is also going to continue to work with the taxi and limousine companies already licensed in Westchester to ease their regulatory burdens so there is a level playing field for all types of for-hire transportation. The county has also asked Uber and Lyft to develop the technology to put the “Thumbs Up” certification into their app so that riders will know ahead of time if they’ve been fingerprinted.
Edward Stoppelmann, president of Red Oak Transportation, said his company and others will work with the county on this effort to ensure safety remains paramount in the industry.
“The Livery Industry Council of Westchester, which represents the for-hire companies in the county, will continue working with the county executive and TLC leadership to ensure that public safety remains its top priority,” said Stoppelmann. “TLC-licensed drivers have always been subject to mandatory fingerprinting and drug testing and are an integral part of the ground transportation system here in Westchester serving our residents, corporate citizens, and visitors.”
Pictured here: County Executive Rob Astorino announcing the "Thumbs Up" program.
Photo courtesy Ned McCormack, Communications Director, County of Westchester