CTNewsJunkie file photo
Michael Cacioppo, a former Connecticut taxi driver and now an Uber driver (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

It’s been almost two years since the Department of Transportation commissioned a report that made recommendations about how the state should regulate ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

The study conducted by the Institute for Regional and Municipal Policy at Central Connecticut State University, suggested that the state could treat the companies and their drivers more like taxi and livery services. It was a suggestion that caused some concern for companies trying to employ a new social business model.

Uber has been servicing Connecticut since April 2014. The company launched in Fairfield and New Haven counties and has since expanded its operation to Hartford and New London. Lyft, another ride-sharing company, suspended its services in Connecticut in 2015, but seems to be active again in the state based on its website. No representative of Lyft responded to our inquiry. 

One month following Uber’s launch in Connecticut, 15 state cab and livery companies filed suit against Uber and Lyft to block them from doing business in the state. The taxi companies contend the ridesharing companies’ services skirt state and federal regulations of the industry.

Uber is an app-based transportation network company that allows a person to request a ride with his or her phone. Drivers use their own cars to pick up people and drive them to their destinations. Lyft is also an app-based transportation network company.

“There is nothing unfair or illegal about what Uber does,” the company said in its motion to dismiss the 2014 federal lawsuit. “This lawsuit is merely an attempt by Plaintiffs to use the courts to beat back a legitimate business, which provides a useful service to consumers frustrated with outdated transportation options, so that Plaintiffs can cling to the status quo.”

U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson agreed with Uber and dismissed the complaint on May 24, 2016.

Two other taxi companies filed an action against the state Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles in Connecticut Superior Court for failing to exercise their regulatory functions. That lawsuit was also dismissed.

Lawmakers will ultimately get to decide whether they should regulate these ride-sharing services and to what extent.

Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said lawmakers will be getting back to the issue during the 2017 legislative session. He said the Transportation Committee decided to skip the debate in the short session and revisit the issue again this year.

A bill that would have tightened regulations for ride-sharing services passed the House in 2015, but stalled in the Senate until time ran out.

The 2015 bill would have tightened background checks for drivers and would have established insurance coverage requirements that don’t currently exist.

In 2015, Uber officials testified that they weren’t opposed to reasonable regulations, but they felt they shouldn’t fall into the same category as taxi and livery services. .

Scanlon, who signed up to be an Uber driver, said the process was easy. He filled out an online application, which took about 30-minutes, and within four days without ever receiving a call from the company he received an email giving him permission to start accepting passengers.

Scanlon, who uses Uber, said he believes there should be better consumer protections for the passengers who are riding in these vehicles.

“I’ve used it and I like it, but I want to make sure it’s safe for people,” Scanlon said in a recent interview.

He said currently the background checks done by the ride-sharing companies don’t include real-time moving violations, such as drunk driving or speeding.

An “FBI background check would allow for something called ‘livescan’ technology which means that employers get live updates if their employees commit crimes rather than the usual background check which just occurs prior to hiring,” Scanlon said.

Scanlon said the technology the ride-sharing companies use generally doesn’t check for convictions including theft, sexual offenses, or fraud in counties other than the one the driver is working in. Scanlon said a person working in Connecticut could have a record in Florida and still be granted permission to drive because it wouldn’t show up in the background check.

A representative of Uber said the company uses a third-party background check provider called Checkr. Checkr, according to documents provided by Uber, “runs a social security trace to identify addresses associated with the potential driver, and then checks the potential driver’s driving and criminal history in a series of national, state and local databases. These include the US Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website, the PACER database, and several databases used to flag suspected terrorists.”

Scanlon said he expects the Transportation Committee to have another lively debate on the issue again this year.

But regulating drivers may be a temporary problem for lawmakers.

Scanlon said it’s likely this year’s debate will include the regulation of driverless cars.

Editor’s Note: A representative of Uber said the company does run background checks on their drivers including moving violations and sexual offenses.