ATLANTA | Atlanta's airport — the world's busiest — and Los Angeles officials want to force Uber drivers to get fingerprint-based background checks to pick up passengers, but the ride-hailing service is balking.
Officials in both cities are weighing measures to require Uber and similar companies to tighten standards in an effort to ferret out drivers who have had serious trouble with the law. The debate over safety has come amid rapid growth by Uber and other app-based ride-booking services and intensified last month, when police say an Uber driver went on a shooting spree in Michigan that led to six deaths.
The Atlanta City Council will review a proposed fingerprint requirement on March 30 that airport officials have been advocating. Officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport said they might be inclined to lift the current ban on ride-booking services if fingerprint-based background checks are implemented.
Such a requirement "gives everybody confidence in the system," Airport General Manager Miguel Southwell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He added that "it really should be a welcome part of the process."
But Uber has sharply opposed the proposal. Company spokesman Bill Gibbons said in an interview Friday that such a requirement would add "substantial, additional bureaucratic barriers for drivers," many of whom work part-time driving customers when they can.
Uber said the proposal for fingerprint-based background checks is out of step with operating agreements it has with about 50 U.S. airports, which it says don't require fingerprint-based background checks. Among them is Denver International Airport, which allows regular Uber drivers to drop off and pick up passengers in the same public areas where family members and friends pick up passengers, airport spokesman Heath Montgomery said.
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, Mayor Eric Garcetti and two council members have asked California regulators to allow the city to implement a pilot program requiring fingerprinting of drivers for ride-booking services.
"Keeping the riding public safe is something we should strive to do and requiring full and fair fingerprint background checks across the board will push us in that direction," Los Angeles City Council member Paul Krekorian said in a statement.
Many law enforcement experts say a fingerprint search is the most comprehensive way to check someone's background. Uber counters that its checks — which it says includes searches of motor vehicle department files and several criminal databases going back seven years — are strong.
Across the nation, Uber has had trouble getting into some airports, a last fortress for taxis and one they have jealously guarded. The taxi lobby succeeded in keeping them out of Los Angeles International Airport until January, and — unlike taxis — the cars there must wait off-site to be summoned.
The San Francisco-based company's problems multiplied on Feb. 30, when police say Uber driver Jason Dalton opened fire on people between picking up fares, killing six and wounding two others in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Authorities said Dalton had no known criminal background, and Uber security chief Joe Sullivan has said that "no background check would have flagged and anticipated this situation."
Uber is not alone in fighting the fingerprint requirement.
"While the Hartsfield-Jackson staff has recognized the benefits Lyft provides, the current plan as proposed will make it extremely difficult for Lyft to operate," ride-sharing service Lyft said in a statement to The Associated Press.