The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities filed an order on Friday that called for a relaxing of previously enforced background checks on drivers working for ride-hailing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, spokesperson Katie Gronendyke wrote in an email.
Several of the changes included in the order center around the issue of criminal records, in particular offenses or minor infractions that may have occurred many years ago, according to the DPU order.
The recently introduced legislation will not become effective until Sept. 22, and follows the administration’s collection of input from businesses, drivers and the general public over the course of several months, Gronendyke wrote.
Alterations to the former regulations include granting hearings to individuals who are presumptively disqualified from being employed by one of the companies due to prior offenses, whereas before they were solely allowed an appeal, according to the order.
Alix Anfang, an Uber spokesperson, wrote in an email the company is currently in the process of reviewing the regulations put forth by the DPU.
“We … look forward to working with the administration to ensure our drivers have access to flexible earning opportunities and that the regulations are workable for riders and drivers in the commonwealth,” Anfang wrote.
Johanna Griffiths, a criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of Russell J Matson, said she has contributed hundreds of hours of her own time since January to working with individuals who had been negatively affected by the DPU’s strict policies regarding prior offenses.
“It’s wrong that people in this type of situation are stigmatized in the way that they are,” Griffiths said. “It’s about people having a right to work, getting past mistakes and moving on with their lives.”
One of Griffith’s primary concerns, aside from adult drivers being punished for crimes committed in their youth, she said, is the inclusion of a continuance without a finding, or CWOF, within the legislation.
“[CWOF is] a disposition in criminal court where the person is put on probation for a period of time,” Griffiths said. “At the end of that period, as long as they comply with their requirements for court, that case is dismissed. It is not a conviction for the purposes of the court.”
Griffiths emphasized that companies like Uber are currently treating the CWOF as more actionable than what the law states, and for that reason, the department should work to remove the inclusion of the CWOF altogether.
“For the most part, you can get any job with a CWOF,” Griffiths said. “The hardest job to get right now in the state of Massachusetts is a job driving for Uber or Lyft.”
Griffiths said an individual’s economic status also plays a major role in the length of time a driver’s license is suspended by Uber or the DPU due to their mandates, which she said has not been considered in the new iteration of the rules.
“If someone gets a certain number of speeding tickets or in a certain number of accidents, they have to take a driver retraining class, mandated by the RMV [Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles],” Griffiths said. “What happens when you don’t take the class in the mandated amount of time is your license is suspended. Had they had the financial means to pay for the class, their license never would have been suspended.”
District 7 City Council candidate Charles Clemons said his personal experience working as a Lyft, Uber and Fasten driver has heightened his belief that drivers should not be punished for incidents that occurred years ago.
“It’s a good thing that they loosened it up because there are a lot of capable and hardworking individuals that were affected by that law,” Clemons said. “Now they can get back to making a livable wage.”
Clemons said although the legislation is a positive start in the right direction, there is more that can be done for ride-hailing drivers whom have records.
Several Boston residents voiced varying opinions on the new regulations to be imposed by the DPU.
Jodie Maya, 39, Back Bay said she disagreed with the DPU’s decision to scale back on the previous enforcements because of prior poor experiences she has had with drivers.
“Uber and Lyft [drivers] are pretty creepy,” Maya said. “I would support stricter regulations. I would say that it’s a bad thing that they’re moving away from doing so. You don’t know who you’re getting [into a car with] and you’re putting your trust in the person that’s driving that they have a safe record, and you want to have that security as a minimum or prerequisite.”
Kieran Dolan, 24, Back Bay said as a frequent ride-hailing user, he doesn’t have too many concerns regarding the driver, or what their background may entail.
“If you’re getting into either an Uber or a Lyft, you’re already accepting some sort of risk and responsibility, like this is a stranger, so that’s something to keep in mind,” Dolan said.
Mike Ketner, 30, Back Bay said he is in favor of less strict background checks on drivers, as long as the safety of riders is still maintained.
“If people out there are trying to be drivers for Uber and Lyft, and aren’t able to right now because of the current regulations, then I’m for it as long as safety is still taken care of,” Ketner said.