Uber, Lyft drivers voice anger over state-mandated background checks

BOSTON (WHDH) - Hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers who have been banned from the apps after state-mandated background checks voiced their anger at a public hearing on Tuesday.

The hearing was held by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, which is overseeing the background checks – which are the strictest for ride-sharing companies in the country.

“This job gives us the opportunity for a better future,” said Roberta Aranha, a Lyft driver, during her comments to the department.

But the vast majority of the Uber and Lyft drivers who packed the hearing said they’ve been unfairly blocked from driving for the apps.

“It’s crippling me. I’m not even able to pay my student loans,” said John Holder, an Uber driver who said he had been disqualified because he did not have a Massachusetts driver’s license for at least one year.

“I’m father of four kids and Uber is my main source of income to take care of my family,” said Victor Kabia, another Uber driver who said he had been disqualified over traffic issues.

In the past few years, police have arrested Uber drivers for sexual assaults in Cambridge, Norwood, and Boston. The incidents sparked Massachusetts lawmakers to demand stricter background checks.

Last month, the state announced it had put 8,200 ride-sharing drivers in park. Fifty-one of them were sex offenders, and more than 1,500 had been charged with a violent crime.

But many others were banned because of decades-old cases, crimes they were never convicted of, or lower-level traffic issues.

“I have been rejected on a background check for an incident that happened 41 years ago, when I was 17 years old,” said Greg Bourbeau, an Uber driver who did not specify the incident in question, other than to say it was traffic-related.

“I could do any other job in the universe – doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, whatever – but I can’t drive for Uber?” asked Richard Ofria, another disqualified Uber driver.

Both companies also urged state officials to take action.

In an interview last week, Tom Maguire, the general manager of Uber’s New England operations, told 7NEWS, “We hope that they start listening, and making a change – making a change that reflects that they have listened to drivers.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said the state background checks have helped Massachusetts set a national standard for driver safety. Now, lawmakers who pushed for the safety checks are split on whether the state went too far.

“You want us to be good. You want us to keep the people safe. Totally agree with you. Totally. All for it. But you’re not helping us get back on the road,” said Paul Poisson, another disqualified Uber driver.

The state must finalize its new rules by November. Meanwhile, about 500 drivers have successfully appealed their bans.

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